Today’s modern dentistry offers some pretty high tech options for patients who are missing teeth. Although I still have many patients who have traditional dental bridges or dentures, more and more of them are choosing to have dental implants as part of the solution to their deficient dentition (a fancy way of saying, missing teeth!) According to the American Association of Implant Dentistry, more than 500,000 implants are placed annually in the U.S.
Lately, I’ve noticed ads touting the benefits of “mini dental implants”. Because I believe this could be very confusing to you, the consumer, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain the difference between dental implants and mini dental implants. Here goes:
What Are Dental Implants?
According to the American Academy of Periodontology. A dental implant is an artificial tooth root that is placed into your jaw to hold a replacement tooth or bridge. Dental implants may be an option for people who have lost a tooth or teeth due to periodontal disease, an injury, or some other reason.
Most dental implants are shaped like a screw and commonly made of commercially pure titanium, which has the unique property of being able to bond or fuse to bone in a process called osseointegration. Osseointegration generally takes three to six months to occur and once completed, allows the implant (or implants) to be used as an anchor to support a single replacement tooth, a permanent bridge that replaces multiple teeth, or aid in the stabilization of a removable denture.
What Are Mini Dental Implants?
Mini dental implants, also known as small diameter implants, are about half the size (1.8-3.0mm in diameter) as traditional implants. When mini dental implants were first introduced back in the late 1970’s, it was intended that they would serve only as temporary supports while the conventional root form dental implants were healing.
It was soon discovered, however, that mini implants were sometimes not so easy to remove. In fact, in many cases, the mini implant had successfully integrated with a patient’s bone. This serendipitous finding led to a repurposing of the mini dental implant and treatment plans were developed in which these smaller fixtures began to serve as a permanent alternative to traditional implants. For more than 20 years, mini implants have been, and continue to be, a viable treatment modality in the world of implant dentistry. But they are not for everyone. Read on…
Who Are Mini Implants Best Suited For?
Because of their smaller size, mini dental implants are best suited for patients who lack adequate bone to support larger dental implants. All dental implants, mini or otherwise, require a bony foundation in order to be successful. But mini implants require less bone.
In many patients, the dental disease and trauma caused tooth loss also severely compromised the amount of bone that remains. Because of that, many patients seeking dental implants often need bone grafting prior to or in conjunction with implant placement. And while bone grafting techniques have advanced to a point that predictably successful results can be achieved, such treatment does add to the overall complexity, expense, and time required to complete the implant process. Mini implants can be a great solution in such circumstances.
Mini implants lessen the need for bone grafting and thus decrease the cost and discomfort associated with more advanced surgery. They also serve to simplify overall treatment.
But…while mini implants might be considered an alternative to their full-sized brethren in situations where there is not enough bone or when a patient’s poor health precludes more comprehensive care, mini implants have significant limitations in their application. Mini implants are not as strong as regular implants and their reduced size precludes universal use in most clinical situations. Think of it this way: you can’t use a small finishing nail instead of a large bolt or rivet when engineering and building an office tower.
As mentioned before, a conventional implant replaces the root of a tooth. It has a cylindrical or tapered shape and a threaded inner channel, which provides for the fixed placement of a replacement tooth post (called an abutment). Sometimes it also has an attachment for stabilizing a denture by way of a screw. The ingenious internal design of dental implants allow for tremendous versatility in its restorative uses: to replace a single tooth, multiple teeth by way of a permanent bridge, or to support and/or stabilize a removable partial or full denture.
A mini implant, in contrast, is a solid single piece that has a ball-shaped portion at the top, which protrudes through the gum. It cannot accommodate an internal fixation screw because of its reduced size. The replacement tooth snaps tightly over the ball.
Because a mini implant comprised of is one solid piece, using it for permanent non-removable tooth replacement is severely restricted. Only the larger, quasi-mini implant of three millimeters diameter can be used as to “permanently replace a tooth” because, at three millimeters, it does utilize a screw-retained component (abutment) to support a tooth. three millimeters implants do have restrictions as well, including the use of significantly less force to tighten the supporting screw less it fractures and some manufacturers’ warnings not to use them to support more than a one tooth replacement. In other words, no bridges!.)
Reduced size makes the entire mini-implant more susceptible to cracking under stress and the reduced surface area within the bone significantly limits the amount of biting force that can be applied without jeopardizing its integrity.
When Mini Implants Are A Good Choice
Therefore, a mini implant is a good choice for lower incisors where there is minimal stress but not a good choice to replace a single back tooth, which gets a lot of stress.
The most frequent use of mini implants in my practice is to help stabilize a removable denture. That said, when used this way, to aid in the stability of a denture, it is of paramount importance that the denture fits well and that the biting forces (occlusion) are properly distributed, lest the mini implants are overloaded and fail.
I have found little evidence to support unsubstantiated claims that mini implants can last as long as traditional size implants. Truth be told, mini implants are best used in circumstances where there is little bone support. It stands to reason that in such compromised clinical conditions, the failure rate of smaller diameter implants would be higher. The most common use for mini implants is in the severely compromised mouth to help stabilize removable dentures. As previously mentioned, three millimeters implants can and are frequently used to replace missing front teeth.
Traditionally sized implants are the standard by which successful dental implant treatment is measured. Continued technological breakthroughs are ever expanding the physical and biological boundaries that once served as barriers to many would-be dental implant candidates. As previously mentioned, implant manufacturers have succeeded in reducing the size of traditional implants to about three millimeters. And, I suspect as material science advances, more reduction in size and enhanced design will follow.
Mini dental implants offer a viable alternative specifically for a select group of patients who cannot receive more traditional implants. But they are are not the panacea for everyone missing some or all of his or her natural teeth.
About The Doctor
Dentistry is the perfect marriage of both art and science. My many years of experience combined with modern dental technology enables me to diagnose, treat and actually prevent disease. And creating beautiful smiles for my patients is extremely fulfilling.
People generally see their dentist more frequently than any other health professional, so I feel uniquely positioned as a “first responder” in safeguarding my patients’ oral health and general well-being. Based solely upon my clinical observations, I have been able to help many physicians diagnose diseases in patients in the very early stages.
Because I see my patients regularly over many years, I have been blessed with many meaningful relationships based on trust, confidence and comfortable familiarity; not to mention many shared moments of levity and humor. Experience a more caring kind of dental practice…please call today for an appointment.
– Michael Sinkin, DDS