If dental implants represent a revolution in restorative dental care, then mini implants are the next stage in this revolution.
Mini implants enable dental surgeons to use implants in situations where traditional implants cannot be used, thereby extending their benefit to many more patients. For example, in the past patients with low bone mass (as a result of osteoporosis, for example) would require bone grafting. Today, a dental surgeon can often use mini implants, bypassing the lengthy and costly grafting procedure.
Mini-implants can also be used in cases of bone loss when the surrounding bone is not thick enough to support regular implants. Now many patients can enjoy the benefits of implants, especially older patients who require support for bridges and fixed dentures (which is usually placed at the front of the jaw, an area with a naturally thin ridge that gets thinner with age). In fact, mini-implants have become the go-to for denture support.
Mini implants, with their thin diameter, are also prime candidates for placing in small areas and replacing narrow teeth, such as lateral incisors.
CBCT images (CBCT being a more advanced form of CT) provide a three-dimensional accurate scan of the jaw, including the bone condition, location of nerves, facial bone anatomy, and other variables required to assess the right treatment. Being much more reliable than two-dimensional scans, CBCT has become the go-to for digital implant procedures.
CBCT scans are also lighter and less expensive than traditional CT scans, enabling many dental practices to purchase them, eliminating the need for a separate visit to a scan lab and lowering the cost of scans.
Implant planning software
Implant planning software uses the CBCT scans as input to create 3D images of implants, including their exact position, angle, and depth; taking into account all the required variables such as bone mass, bone structure, and location of nerves.
The software creates a radiographic guide of the implant procedures that converts to a surgical guide used by the dental surgeon during the procedure. The software is also used to create 3D models of the crowns to be placed; which are then sent to the lab which digitally designs and produces the crowns.
Implant planning software has played a significant role in streamlining the implant procedure, shortening it and most important – improving the accuracy of the implant procedure and its outcome.
In the past, dentists used dental plaster casts to create a model of the patient’s teeth – a messy and unpleasant process. Today, the models are generated using 3D imaging, the same CBCT imaging mentioned above, and the model itself is produced by a 3D printer.
In recent years, with the cost of 3D printers and materials going down, many dental practices decided to purchase them for in-house use. Together with a local CBCT scan, this cuts down considerably on the time, effort and dependency on external providers required to plan and execute the dental treatment.
The advances in CBCT imaging and implant planning software has enabled dental surgeons to prepare for surgery by looking at precise virtual placements of the implants. It also enables us to fabricate highly accurate drill guides (which look like an encasing over the teeth).
The drill guides are used to ensure the dental surgeon drills and place the implant at precisely the planned location, angle, and depth. As a result, the procedure has such high levels of accuracy that it lowers the possibility of human error to virtually zero.
How they all come together
If you compare the process the implant today to just five years ago, you can see how technological advancement has completely altered the progression, stops on the way, number of external providers (and therefore for the chance of mistakes and delays), the procedure outcome, downtime and discomfort level.
Five years ago, the fewer patients that were eligible for immediate implants were sent to external labs for two-dimensional CT scans. Doctors would work without implant planning software and drill guides, and with less knowledge of the patient’s anatomy.
Today, when a patient comes in a CBCT scan is taken immediately and the imaging is shared between the surgeon, restorative dentist, and lab, so they can decide in close collaboration on a course for action.
Once the implant specifics are decided, the CBCT is inputted into a planning software that creates the surgical guides for precise implant placement.
Meanwhile, the CBCT scans are used to create a model of the patient’s jaw and the restorative elements, which are then created on a 3D printer. Scan data is entered into and implant planning software to create the surgical guide for the implant.
Doctors now enjoy a more streamlined, efficient procedure and less costly procedure (transferring the savings to their patients). Patients enjoy less hassle, discomfort, and downtime.
Most importantly, the success rates of implant procedures have risen dramatically.