The removable partial and the bridge are both useful and available in the twenty-first century and will probably be around as options for many years to come, but they are old tech. That’s not a rap on them, but it does point to the emergence of dental implants as a distinctly modern solution to the problem of missing teeth.
An implant is a metal post screwed surgically into the bone of the upper or lower jaw. The post functions as a sturdy anchor on which an artificial tooth is mounted. Both ceramic and titanium (the metal of which the post is made) are accepted by the human body without rejection or allergic reaction.
The advantage of the implant is that, like a natural tooth, it is anchored in the jaw. The post replaces roots of teeth that were lost, damaged, or missing from birth, and in so doing, prevents future deterioration or bone loss.
An implant does not require support from adjacent teeth, as a bridge does. It will therefore function like a real tooth, be cleaned like one, and in general, serve you for many years just as your own teeth do—with the advantage of not being subject to decay.
I want to be clear: the implant is the titanium post, not the tooth. The crown (artificial tooth) is usually not added to the post until four to six months after the post is implanted. (The crown does not fit directly on the post but is mounted on a connector called an abutment that screws into the post.) In some situations, your dentist may choose to combine the crown and the abutment as one device.
The delay between implantation and crowning allows time for the post to fuse with the jawbone. Patients are understandably anxious to have the crown in place and dislike the delay. Some even forego implants and choose a bridge rather than wait.
Most dentists advise against immediate loading—the term we use for attaching the tooth to the post immediately after implant placement. However, science is always advancing, and I expect immediate loading to become the standard for all implants in the future.
Should you have an implant? Are you a good candidate for the surgery?