When people casually refer to “dental implants”, it can mean a lot of things. Some people will refer to their full mouth restoration with multiple dental implants, abutments, crowns, or bridges, simply as "dental implants." Or they may refer to their snap on overdenture as dental implants. Commonly, the term “dental implant” can mean the combination of an implant, abutment and crown. To further understand the anatomy of everything that goes into an implanted tooth restoration, let's break it down.
First, there’s the actual dental implant itself. The implant serves as the replacement for the roots of your tooth. It’s placed in the bone, generally made of titanium, and looks like a tiny screw. The goal of the implant is that it will osseointegrate, and essentially become one with your bone. This will serve as the base of your new tooth. The top of the implant will be about level with your gums, meaning, you won’t see your dental implant once a tooth has been placed on it.
Since the implant goes into the bone, and not above, an abutment is screwed into the implant to give the tooth something to attach to above the gum line. There are multi-unit abutments which are complex and allow for greater angulation, healing abutments which are used temporarily while an implant heals, and standard abutments. These abutments provide a solid point for a crown or bridge to be attached to.
Once the implant and the abutment are in place, it needs to be restored. The restoration might be a single crown, a bridge of teeth, or even an overdenture. The restoration is secured to the abutment using a strong adhesive or a screw. In some cases like with a snap-on overdenture, the restoration is meant to snap on and off of the abutment. Once restored, the teeth portion of the restoration will cover the abutment and should be the only part of the entire restoration that is visible.
So, the next time someone points to their tooth and says, ”this one is an implant," you'll know you're looking at a crown or bridge, which is attached to an abutment, which is attached to an implant.