A dental abutment is an integral part of the dental implant, one of the most reliable and sought-after forms of tooth replacement. While there are other ways to replace missing teeth, from bridges to dentures, either partial or full, many find that dental implants provide the most durable and tooth-like replacements to fill the gaps in their previously full smiles.
What is a dental abutment?
In many ways, the dental abutment is the unsung hero of the dental implant, serving as the necessary connector between the implant fixture – the small post that is surgically embedded into the jawbone, remaining hidden below the gumline – and the implant crown, which is the prosthetic tooth that operates alongside one’s existing teeth.
Composed of titanium, zirconium, or some other metal or alloy, the abutment is not just a simple connector, either. It can also be used to help heal and shape the soft tissues of the gums following the first oral surgery in which the implant fixture is installed and merged with the jawbone. This is what is known as a healing abutment.
Typically, dental implants are installed in a three-stage process whereby the implant fixture is installed first and the gums are then stitched up and allowed to heal while the fixture embeds itself into the jawbone. This process is called osseointegration and is an extremely important step, as the implant fixture and its connection with the jaw is what provides the strength and durability of the dental implant. This stage of the process is essentially creating prosthetic roots, which will later allow for normal chewing and eating.
An abutment is installed during the second stage, in which the gums are opened back up and the abutment is attached to the implant fixture. This piece is what will effectively connect the prosthetic roots to the prosthetic tooth itself.
Healing abutments can be used directly following the implant fixture installation, however, to train the gums around a cuff shaped similarly to the prosthetic crown that will later be installed.
The benefits of healing abutments include fewer surgeries, less trauma to the gumline, healthier tissues, and a more custom look around the gumline. For these reasons, many opt to use a healing abutment when the implant fixture is installed.
For the most natural looking results, you might also opt to use a custom-made abutment, which your dentist can create using impressions of your mouth for a look that does not disrupt your natural gumline.
Installing the Implant Crown
It is not until the final stage that the implant crown itself is placed. At this time, the healing abutment will be removed and a permanent abutment installed in its place. The full process typically takes between six and eight months to complete.
The final decision to be made is regarding one’s preference surrounding the removability of the implant crown itself, as these can be made to be either permanent or removable. This decision should be made in close consultation with your dentist, who will be there to help you every step of the way.