A dental implant is a prosthetic replacement for a missing tooth. Natural teeth consist of the crown and the root. The crown is the visible section that is covered with white enamel. Supporting the crown is the tooth root which extends into the jawbone. The root is the part of the tooth that is effectively replaced by an implant.
There are commonly three parts to what is described as an implant - the implant device itself (which is inserted directly into the bone); the abutment - the piece that connects the implant device to the third part - the overlying crown or denture.
Today's implants are predominantly made of titanium, a metal that is bio-compatible and offers strength and durability as well as a unique property of fusing directly to bone - the process known as osseointegration. Other materials, such as zirconium, might be used to make implants in the future. But for now, these materials have not been perfected for general use.
Dental implants work by a process known as osseointegration, which occurs when bone cells attach themselves directly to the titanium surface, essentially locking the implant into the jaw bone. This process was first discovered by a Swedish researcher, Per-Ingvar Brånemark, in the 1960's. Placing dental implants into the jaw bones by controlled surgical procedures allow them to "osseointegrate."
Osseointegrated implants can then be used to support prosthetic tooth replacements of various designs and functionality, replacing anything from a single missing tooth to a full arch (all teeth in the upper and lower jaw). These replacement teeth are usually made to match the natural enamel color of each patient which offers a completely natural appearance and a whole new smile.