The general idea of dental implants is pretty simple. The small metal implant is placed in your jaw and takes the place of your missing tooth's root. Once your bone and soft tissues have healed, a prosthetic tooth is connected to the implant—with the tooth being made to look just like the one it's replacing. And in the broad sense, that's how an implant works. But this basic idea hides the sophistication involved in having a dental implant placed. So how does it really work?
A Look at Your Jaw
Dental implant surgery is planned over several visits. Preliminary surgical preparation involves a detailed look at your jaw using diagnostic imaging equipment. You will receive preliminary x-rays of your jaw, and this helps to assess bone density. These x-rays utilize cone beam computed tomography, creating a divergent (cone-shaped) series of x-rays for a detailed assessment of your jaw, helping your dentist to check its density.
Bone Density in Your Jaw
Density is important for implant success, and the jawbone naturally loses some of its mass when a tooth is lost. It no longer experiences the same level of bio-mechanical force (bite pressure) due to the missing tooth, so nutrients such as calcium (used to maintain bone strength) are directed to other parts of your body. Some patients will need bone grafting in the jaw before they can undergo dental implant surgery. Your dentist will tell you if this is relevant in your case.
Further Imaging of the Implant Site
Assuming no grafting is needed, further imaging is performed. A 3D scan of your jaw will be made, and this data is cross referenced with and often combined with the earlier x-ray created using cone beam computed tomography. This diagnostic testing allows for a comprehensive look at the implant site, with particular reference to any adjacent nerves and blood vessels—which must be avoided during implantation.
A Customized Surgical Guide
Your dentist now has the necessary information to create a customized surgical guide, showing the precise location of where an access hole must be made for implant placement, along with the required depth and angle of the implant. The planning for your implant has now been completed, and your dentist can proceed with your surgery.
While a general idea of a dental implant might be pretty simple, the planning must be thorough and precise to ensure that your new implant does exactly what it's supposed to do—which is look and function just like the natural tooth it's replacing.