What are dental implants?

A dental implant is a replacement for the root or roots of a natural root, being fixed in the jawbone similar to a natural tooth. Crowns, bridgework or dentures can then be attached to the implant using screws that insert into an internal screw thread within the implant.

Implants are made of titianium, a material that is strong, lightweight and has been shown over many years to be well tolerated by bone. Titanium's special property of fusing to bone, called osseointegration ("osseo" – bone; "integration" – fusion or joining with), is the biological basis of dental implant success. In fact, dental implants have the highest success rates of any implanted surgical device.

There are many different implant systems available and care must be taken when considering implant treatment because not all implants are made equal and the choice of implant can have a dramatic effect on the chances of success (See 'which implant systems do Smilemakers use?').

How do implants differ from natural teeth?

Natural teeth and dental implants may look the same, feel the same, and even function in a similar way, but they are very different. The most important differences are in the way they attach to the surrounding bone, their response to dental disease, their maintenance, and repair.

Teeth attach to the surrounding bone by a periodontal ligament ("peri" – around; "dont" – tooth) made up of collagen fibres which connect the tooth on one side and bone on the other. Dental implants fuse directly to the bone without having this ligament. The presence of this ligament in a natural tooth allows the tooth to move slightly within the bone, acting as a natural shock absorber, whilst also providing feedback to your brain. In a dental implant, this natural shock absorber is absent, and the feedback lessened.

The gum tissues also attach to the root of a tooth with collagen fibers as described above. However, gum tissues can only stick to the surface of dental implants. This is just one of many reasons why excellent oral hygieine is required around dental implants.

Teeth are susceptible to dental decay as well as the need for root canal therapy; dental implants are metal and do not decay or need root canal. Teeth may also be susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease, while dental implants may be susceptible to peri-implantitis, an inflammatory response to bacterial biofilm of the tissues surrounding the implant, which can result in disintegration of the bone to the implant.