Implants are a prosthodontic procedure use to provide permanent replacements for lost teeth without attachment to other teeth. Implants are an alternative treatment for crowns, bridges and dentures and are considered unnecessary by most insurance companies. Because the process can involve procedures performed by more than one dentist, implants can be very expensive and time intensive.
The normal process for implants is to visit your dentist and discuss what it is you want. This is very important to insure satisfactory results. Once your dentist is sure you understand this type of treatment, and what kind of results to expect, you may be referred to a prosthodontist, if your dentist does not do prosthodontics. The prosthodontist or dentist will explain the process of making models of your mouth to be used in the fabrication, by a dental lab, for the replacement teeth.
The policies of the implant manufacturers use to permit sales only to oral surgeons. Recent changes in these policies by some manufacturers now make it possible for qualified dentists to purchase and place implants. Because of these old policies in the past, at this point you would have been referred to an oral surgeon to place the implants. In our office we use the Nobel Biocare System and no longer need to refer our patients to an oral surgeon.
If your dentist refers you to an oral surgeon a strong working relationship between the oral surgeon and the dentist providing the prosthodontics is very important. The more experience they have working together, the better your results. If you are not comfortable with the oral surgeon you were referred to, ask your dentist for another referral; do not, in this situation, find your own oral surgeon.
Aside from how important it is that these two doctors have a strong working relationship, they must also be using the same implant system. The graphics below shows some of the several dozen different implant systems that exist.
Despite the claims of the companies involved, there is no one implant system that has proven to be the best. Besides the different methods for implant attachment to the bone, they also differ in how the replacement teeth attach to the implants. If the two doctors do not have a prior working relationship then they probably do not use the same system and will simply be unable to work together; unless one is willing to accept the cost of purchasing the new instruments needed (which is usually significant) and spend the time needed to learn a new system. In most cases this will increase the cost and time needed to complete the process, which is usually not in your best interest.
After the oral surgeon places the implants you will be referred back to finish the prosthodontic work. There will be some time needed for the gums to heal and any swelling to subside. Finally the replacement teeth, custom fabricated by a dental lab, will be attached to the implanted posts and the treatment completed. Care and maintenance for these teeth is basically the same as your natural teeth.