A dental implant is a titanium “root” device used in dentistry to support restorations that resemble a tooth or group of teeth to replace missing teeth. Virtually all dental implants placed today are root-form endosseous implants, i.e., they appear similar to an actual tooth root (and thus possess a “root-form”) and are placed within the bone (endo- being the Greek prefix for “in” and osseous referring to “bone”). The bone of the jaw accepts and osseointegrates with the titanium post. Osseointegration refers to the fusion of the implant surface with the surrounding bone. This is what makes the implant resemble the look and feel of a natural tooth. Since dental implants fuse with bone and lack the periodontal ligament, however, they will feel slightly different than natural teeth during chewing.
Prior to the advent of root-form endosseous implants, most implants were either blade endosseous implants, in that the shape of the metal piece placed within the bone resembled a flat blade, or subperiosteal implants, in which a framework was constructed to lie upon and was attached with screws to the exposed bone of the jaws. Dental implants can be used to support a number of dental prostheses, including crowns, implant-supported bridges or dentures. They can also be used as anchorage for orthodontic tooth movement. The use of dental implants permits undirectional tooth movement without reciprocal action.
Prior to commencement of surgery, careful and detailed planning is required to identify vital structures such as the inferior alveolar nerve or the sinus, as well as the shape and dimensions of the bone to properly orient the implants for the most predictable outcome. Two-dimensional radiographs, such as orthopantomographs or periapicals are often taken prior to the surgery. Sometimes, a CT scan will also be obtained. Specialized 3D CAD/CAM computer programs may be used to plan the case.
Whether CT-guided or manual, a ‘stent’ may sometimes be used to facilitate the placement of implants. A surgical stent is an acrylic wafer that fits over either the teeth, the bone surface or the mucosa (when all the teeth are missing) with pre-drilled holes to show the position and angle of the implants to be placed. The surgical stent may be produced using stereolithography following computerized planning of a case from the CT scan. CT guided surgery may double the cost compared to more commonly accepted approaches.
In its most basic form the placement of an osseointegrated implant requires a preparation into the bone using either hand osteotomes or precision drills with highly regulated speed to prevent burning or pressure necrosis of the bone. After a variable amount of time to allow the bone to grow on to the surface of the implant (osseointegration), a crown or crowns can be placed on the implant. The amount of time required to place an implant will vary depending on the experience of the practitioner, the quality and quantity of the bone and the difficulty of the individual situation.
At edentulous (without teeth) jaw sites, a pilot hole is bored into the recipient bone, taking care to avoid the vital structures (in particular the inferior alveolar nerve or IAN and the mental foramen within the mandible). Drilling into jawbone usually occurs in several separate steps. The pilot hole is expanded by using progressively wider drills (typically between three and seven successive drilling steps, depending on implant width and length). Care is taken not to damage the osteoblast or bone cells by overheating. A cooling saline or water spray keeps the temperature of the bone to below 47 degrees Celsius (approximately 117 degrees Fahrenheit). The implant screw can be self-tapping, and is screwed into place at a precise torque so as not to overload the surrounding bone (overloaded bone can die, a condition called osteonecrosis, which may lead to failure of the implant to fully integrate or bond with the jawbone). Typically in most implant systems, the osteotomy or drilled hole is about 1mm deeper than the implant being placed, due to the shape of the drill tip. Surgeons must take the added length into consideration when drilling in the vicinity of vital structures.
Traditionally, an incision is made over the crest of the site where the implant is to be placed. This is referred to as a ‘flap’. Some systems allow for ‘flapless’ surgery where a piece of mucosa is punched-out from over the implant site. Proponents of ‘flapless’ surgery believe that it decreases recovery time while its detractors believe it increases complication rates because the edge of bone cannot be visualized. Because of these visualization problems flapless surgery is often carried out using a surgical guide constructed following computerized 3D planning of a pre-operative CT scan.
The amount of time required for an implant to become osseointegrated is a hotly debated topic. Consequently the amount of time that practitioners allow the implant to heal before placing a restoration on it varies widely. In general, practitioners allow 2–6 months for healing but preliminary studies show that early loading of implant may not increase early or long term complications. If the implant is loaded too soon, it is possible that the implant may move which results in failure. The subsequent time to heal, possibly graft and eventually place a new implant may take up to eighteen months. For this reason many are reluctant to push the envelope for healing.
One-Stage, Two-Stage Surgery
When an implant is placed either a ‘healing abutment’, which comes through the mucosa, is placed or a ‘cover screw’ which is flush with the surface of the dental implant is placed. When a cover screw is placed the mucosa covers the implant while it integrates then a second surgery is completed to place the healing abutment. Two-stage surgery is sometimes chosen when a concurrent bone graft is placed or surgery on the mucosa may be required for esthetic reasons. Some implants are one piece so that no healing abutment is required. In carefully selected cases, patients can be implanted and restored in a single surgery, in a procedure labeled “Immediate Loading”. In such cases a provisional prosthetic tooth or crown is shaped to avoid the force of the bite transferring to the implant while it integrates with the bone.
There are different approaches to place dental implants after tooth extraction. The approaches are:
- Immediate post-extraction implant placement.
- Delayed immediate post-extraction implant placement (2 weeks to 3 months after extraction).
- Late implantation (3 months or more after tooth extraction).
According to the timing of loading of dental implants, the procedure of loading could be classified into:
- Immediate loading procedure.
- Early loading (1 week to 12 weeks).
- Delayed loading (over 3 months)
An increasingly common strategy to preserve bone and reduce treatment times includes the placement of a dental implant into a recent extraction site. In addition, immediate loading is becoming more common as success rates for this procedure are now acceptable. This can cut months off the treatment time and in some cases a prosthetic tooth can be attached to the implants at the same time as the surgery to place the dental implants. Most data suggests that when placed into single rooted tooth sites with healthy bone and mucosa around them, the success rates are comparable to that of delayed procedures with no additional complications.
Use of CT scanning
When computed tomography, also called cone beam computed tomography or CBCT (3D X-ray imaging) is used preoperatively to accurately pinpoint vital structures including the inferior alveolar canal, the mental foramen, and the maxillary sinus, the chances of complications might be reduced as is chairtime and number of visits. Cone beam CT scanning, when compared to traditional medical CT scanning, utilizes less than 2% of the radiation, provides more accuracy in the area of interest, and is safer for the patient. CBCT allows the surgeon to create a surgical guide, which allows the surgeon to accurately angle the implant into the ideal space.
Sinus lifting is a common surgical intervention. A dentist or specialist with proper training such as an oral surgeon, periodontist, general dentist, or prosthodontist, thickens the inadequate part of atrophic maxilla towards the sinus with the help of bone transplantation or bone expletive substance. This results in more volume for a better quality bone site for the implantation. Prudent clinicians who wish to avoid placement of implants into the sinus cavity pre-plan sinus lift surgery using the CBCT X-ray, as in the case of posterior mandibular implants discussed earlier.
Bone grafting will be necessary in cases where there is a lack of adequate maxillary or mandibular bone in terms of front to back (lip to tongue) depth or thickness; top to bottom height; and left to right width. Sufficient bone is needed in three dimensions to securely integrate with the root-like implant. Improved bone height—which is very difficult to achieve—is particularly important to assure ample anchorage of the implant’s root-like shape because it has to support the mechanical stress of chewing, just like a natural tooth.
Typically, implantologists try to place implants at least as deeply into bone as the crown or tooth will be above the bone. This is called a 1:1 crown to root ratio. This ratio establishes the target for bone grafting in most cases. If 1:1 or more cannot be achieved, the patient is usually advised that only a short implant can be placed and to not expect a long period of usability.
A wide range of grafting materials and substances may be used during the process of bone grafting / bone replacement. They include the patient’s own bone (autograft), which may be harvested from the hip (iliac crest) or from spare jawbone; processed bone from cadavers (allograft); bovine bone or coral (xenograft); or artificially produced bone-like substances (calcium sulfate with names like Regeneform; and hydroxyapatite or HA, which is the primary form of calcium found in bone). The HA is effective as a substrate for osteoblasts to grow on. Some implants are coated with HA for this reason, although the bone forming properties of many of these substances is a hotly debated topic in bone research groups. Alternatively the bone intended to support the implant can be split and widened with the implant placed between the two halves like a sandwich. This is referred to as a ‘ridge split’ procedure.
Bone graft surgery has its own standard of care. In a typical procedure, the clinician creates a large flap of the gingiva or gum to fully expose the jawbone at the graft site, performs one or several types of block and onlay grafts in and on existing bone, then installs a membrane designed to repel unwanted infection-causing microbiota found in the oral cavity. Then the mucosa is carefully sutured over the site. Together with a course of systemic antibiotics and topical antibacterial mouth rinses, the graft site is allowed to heal (several months).
The clinician typically takes a new radiograph to confirm graft success in width and height, and assumes that positive signs in these two dimensions safely predict success in the third dimension; depth. Where more precision is needed, usually when mandibular implants are being planned, a 3D or cone beam radiograph may be called for at this point to enable accurate measurement of bone and location of nerves and vital structures for proper treatment planning. The same radiographic data set can be employed for the preparation of computer-designed placement guides. Correctly performed, a bone graft produces live vascular bone which is very much like natural jawbone and is therefore suitable as a foundation for implants.
For dental implant procedure to work, there must be enough bone in the jaw, and the bone has to be strong enough to hold and support the implant. If there is not enough bone, more may need to be added with a bone graft procedure discussed earlier. Sometimes, this procedure is called bone augmentation. In addition, natural teeth and supporting tissues near where the implant will be placed must be in good health.
In all cases careful consideration must be given to the final functional aspects of the restoration, such as assessing the forces which will be placed on the implant. Implant loading from chewing and parafunction (abnormal grinding or clenching habits) can exceed the biomechanic tolerance of the implant bone interface and/or the titanium material itself, causing failure. This can be failure of the implant itself (fracture) or bone loss, a “melting” or resorption of the surrounding bone.
The dentist must first determine what type of prosthesis will be fabricated. Only then can the specific implant requirements including number, length, diameter, and thread pattern be determined. In other words, the case must be reverse engineered by the restoring dentist prior to the surgery. If bone volume or density is inadequate, a bone graft procedure must be considered first. The restoring dentist may consult with the oral surgeon, periodontist, endodontist, or another trained general dentist to co-treat the patient. Usually, physical models or impressions of the patient’s jawbones and teeth are made by the restorative dentist at the implant surgeons request, and are used as physical aids to treatment planning. If not supplied, the implant surgeon makes his own or relies upon advanced computer-assisted tomography or a cone beam CT scan to achieve the proper treatment plan.
Computer simulation software based on CT scan data allows virtual implant surgical placement based on a barium impregnated prototype of the final prosthesis. This predicts vital anatomy, bone quality, implant characteristics, the need for bone grafting, and maximizing the implant bone surface area for the treatment case creating a high level of predictability. Computer CAD/CAM milled or stereolithography based drill guides can be developed for the implant surgeon to facilitate proper implant placement based on the final prosthesis’ occlusion and aesthetics.
Treatment planning software can also be used to demonstrate “try-ins” to the patient on a computer screen. When options have been fully discussed between patient and surgeon, the same software can be used to produce precision drill guides. Specialized software applications such as ‘SimPlant’ (simulated implant) or ‘NobelGuide’ use the digital data from a patient’s CBCT to build a treatment plan. A data set is then produced and sent to a lab for production of a precision in-mouth drilling guide.