Dental implants are an advanced treatment option for the long lasting replacement of missing teeth.  Implants can be used individually to support an artificial crown where a single tooth is lost, or more than one implant can be used to support a bridge where several teeth are lost.  A whole arch of teeth (upper or lower) can be supported by four, five or six dental implants.

What are Dental Implants?

Dental implants are titanium screws which can be implanted into the bone of the jaws.  The surface of the implants attracts bone growth, and over several months following implantation the surrounding bone integrates (fuses) with the implant surface, and the implant becomes united with the surrounding bony support.

Situations Where Dental Implants can be Used: 

  • A single implant can be used to support an artificial crown where a single tooth has been lost.
  • Two or more implants can be used to support a fixed bridge where two or more teeth have been lost.
  • Implants can be used to provide anchorage and support for removable dentures (over-dentures).  A common situation would be where two lower implants in the lower left and right canine sites are fitted with ball attachments which engage female attachments in the base of a full lower denture.  This stabilises and retains the denture so it is much more comfortable.

Why have dental implants?

  • Many patients find that removable dentures are bulky and uncomfortable.  An implant solution can often provide a fixed bridge to replace a removable denture.
  • In a situation where several adjacent teeth have been lost, the span between the adjacent teeth may be too long to be reliably restored with a conventional tooth-supported bridge.  Implants can allow an implant-supported bridge instead.
  • Dental implants provide secure fixation and support for dental crowns, bridges and dentures. Crowns or bridges supported by dental implants do not rely on adjacent teeth for support.  Therefore adjacent teeth do not necessarily have to be crowned as is the case with tooth-supported bridges.
  • After natural teeth are lost the bone of the gum tends to shrink.  Placement of dental implants allows functional chewing forces to be transmitted to the bone and tends to prevent the normal loss of bone which occurs after natural teeth are lost.
  • In the case of a single tooth replacement, a good aesthetic result can most often be achieved without the need for preparation of the adjacent teeth as would be the case with a bridge.
  • It is the closest dentistry can offer to giving a patient back a lost tooth.

 What does surgery involve?

  • Consultations with your dentist or prosthodontist as well as a consultation with Dr. West are required to fully assess and treatment plan your case.
  • Your dentist or prosthodontist may provide a stent (template) to accurately indicate where the implants should be placed.
  • Surgery to place dental implants is carried either at our rooms with local anaesthetic and sedation, or under general anaesthetic as a day case in hospital.  An incision is made in the gum and the bone is exposed.  Holes are drilled in the bone at the implant sites to the correct depth and width.  These holes are thread-tapped and the implants are inserted.
  • If the bone is sufficiently dense and the implants are sufficiently firm at the time of installation, it may be possible to connect healing abutments to the implants at the time of installation. These healing abutments would project through the gum after surgery and normally further surgery to uncover the implants would not be necessary. This is known as “single stage surgery”. However If the bone is not sufficiently dense and/or the implants are not sufficiently firm at the time of installation, cover screws would be placed and the implants would be buried under the gum tissues. Further surgery would be needed four to six months later to uncover the implants and place healing abutments. This is known as “two stage surgery”.
  • If there is insufficient bone to place the implants, bone-grafting techniques carried out either previously or at the time of implant installation, may make implant treatment possible.
  • In the case of two stage surgery, stage two implant surgery would be carried out after bony integration of the implants.  The implants would be uncovered and healing abutments placed.
  • Four to six months after single stage surgery, or three to four weeks after stage 2 of two stage surgery your dentist or prosthodontist would replace the healing abutments with definitive abutments and construct a prosthesis (crown, bridge or over-denture) to be supported by the implant(s).


oral surgeon
Dr Lance West is Aucklands foremost expert on Dental implants.