By now it seems like most people have at least heard of dental implants. But the process and specifics are probably still a little fuzzy unless you’ve actually had an implant placed.
Dental implants are essentially small metal (nickel titanium) rods that are surgically placed into the jaw bone to replace a single missing tooth. Often an oral surgeon or periodontist will place the implant. After it is placed, there is usually at least a 6 week waiting period to allow the bone to heal around the implant. During this time of healing, no restoration is put on top of the implant. The next step is to go to the restoring dentist who will take an impression of your mouth to send to the lab. A waiting period (usually 2-3 weeks) follows while the laboratory fabricates the restoration. At the final appointment, the crown is seated and secured in your mouth using either cement or a screw. I tend to prefer the screw-retained type (no chance of cement remaining to irritate your gum tissue, and the dentist can go back and tighten or remove the restoration if necessary for some reason.)
The major benefit to having an implant to replace a tooth rather than a 3-unit bridge are that you do not have to cut into teeth on either side of the edentulous space (space with no tooth). Negatives include having to wait for healing, and being dependent on the patient’s bone quality and quantity.