by Helena Soomer Lincoln DDS, Ph.D.

You may have heard ads on the radio recently talking about dental implants and perhaps were curious about dental implants and what they are for. Dental implants make many  truly amazing smile transformations possible for patients. Let me briefly discuss the types of implants and how they can be used to give you the smile you have always dreamed of.

Dental implants are small conically shaped “screws” that go into your jawbone (upper or lower) and become part of the bone. Implants are usually titanium, but it is possible to get implants that are not made of any metal (for the patients who may have some sensitivity to titanium).  Once placed, implants are the foundation for a variety of restorative options.

The ads you hear on the radio typically are referring to the option of using the implant as the foundation for a new tooth (a crown and abutment) directly on top of the implant. In cases where a single tooth or only a few teeth are missing, this is a common treatment choice.

Many patients require more substantial transformations where many or all of the teeth in their upper or lower arch must be replaced. The simplest restoration in these cases is a prosthetic or denture that include new teeth and gingiva (gums). These can be challenging for patients to wear on their own and implants can be a substantial improvement. For these patients, there are a few options based on implants.

The most basic option is to give the patient 4-6 mini- implants. These are smaller implants that have a small retentive ball on top. The dentures are modified to include housings that “snap” onto these small implant balls. This creates a nice solid connection for the denture while still allowing the denture to be removed by the patient for cleaning, as needed.

Another option is to get 4 full size implants and modify the denture to fit over these implants and screwed into place. This is sometimes referred to as “All-on-4”. The denture is strongly retained and permanent. For many patients, this feels very close to having a full set of teeth again.

The ultimate transformative option is a Zirconia bridge screwed onto full-size implants. Zirconia is a high-tech material that is extremely hard and durable. Using this strength, replacement teeth (the bridge) can be made without artificial gum tissue. This frees the palate and gums, giving patients a very natural feeling set of teeth. Four or more implants are set in the jaw where the bridge will be placed. These teeth are then attached to the implants.

If you are considering implants as the basis for your smile transformation, please consult with your dental provider understanding that there are many options for transformations based on implants. With today’s technology, you can have the smile of your dreams!