The titanium dental implant is a screw-like pin partially imbedded in the jawbone to anchor the attachment of an artificial tooth. Titanium is one of the few materials which will bind tightly to the surrounding matrix of regenerating bone tissue. The implantation procedure requires invasive surgery. Although it boasts a 95% success rate, it typically requires an experienced team of doctors to avoid possible serious complications of this relatively expensive option for replacing missing teeth.
From the Greek words meaning “within bone,” healing bone tissue was discovered to not only accept titanium implants, it was found to fuse with the metal. The phenomenon is called osseointegration. In 1965, the first titanium dental implant was successfully inserted into a human jawbone. Until then, the only means of filling in gaps between missing teeth was a structural denture called a bridge, so named because the artificial tooth was anchored in place by its two adjoining teeth. This procedure required a partial destruction of the two healthy teeth.
Modern titanium implants are small double-ended screws with a tapered end to be inserted into bone. This is shaped very much like the actual root of a tooth. They are designed to give an oral surgeon the decision option of both extracting a tooth and inserting the titanium dental implant in one single procedure. Most screws are pure titanium, but less expensive and laboratory proven titanium alloys are increasingly in use.
A dental team’s careful decision for an implant is based mostly on the detailed study of a three-dimensional x-ray scan, or images from multiple angles, of the location of the jawbone. Critical criteria include apparent health of the bone, especially density. Shape, size, width and depth of the bone must be confirmed to be sufficient to accommodate the implant. Identification for extreme care must be assured not to damage critical structures, such as nerves within the lower jaw and sinuses of the upper jaw.
In a typical procedure, a dentist will adjust the opening and depth of an empty tooth socket with a drill, taking care not to kill living bone cells with the drill’s excessive heat. The titanium dental implant is screwed into place with a miniature torque wrench calibrated to the fracture force of human bone. As the stitched gums heal, and the implant integrates with bone, the protruding nub of titanium screw is covered by a cap called an abutment.
When follow-up x-rays have confirmed a successful grafting of the titanium dental implant, the abutment is removed. It is replaced with a larger cap, tightly screwed on for permanence. A mold is formed for the fabrication of an artificial tooth crown to be cemented onto this cap. Most people opt for a new ceramic tooth. Softer, more malleable gold is sometimes recommended because the new tooth will be in direct contact with the jawbone without the cushioning benefits of a natural tooth.