Are you considering getting dental implants to improve or restore your smile? It’s a big decision for anyone, both in terms of cost and the surgery required, so we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you make an informed decision.
Keep reading to find out exactly what a tooth implant is, what the implant procedure involves, and how much you can expect to pay for implants in the US. We’ll explain the different kinds of implant and look at ways you can save money on them, too.
Our aim is to provide you with all the information you need to decide whether implants are the most suitable dental solution for you.
Table of contents
- 1 What is a tooth implant?
- 2 Types of implant and tooth reconstruction
- 3 Dental implant procedure
- 4 Dental implant cost comparison
- 5 Ways to get cheap dental implants
- 6 How much are dental implants abroad?
- 7 Are implants right for me?
- 8 Conclusion
What is a tooth implant?
An implant is an artificial tooth root which is surgically inserted into the jawbone. It is used to hold a prosthetic tooth or series of teeth in place. In this way, implants function in a similar way to a natural tooth root.
Many people use the term ‘implant’ to mean the entire replacement tooth, but it actually only refers to the part inserted into the bone. We’ll explain all the different components in just a moment.
Implants may be used in cases where the patient has had an accident or medical condition which has caused them to lose one or more of their teeth. Other people choose to have implants for purely cosmetic reasons.
The result is artificial teeth which look, feel, and function just like natural teeth.
Who can have implants?
In order to be a good candidate for an implant, the patient should have strong, healthy gums and a jawbone that is capable of supporting the new root.
However, in many cases, it’s possible to carry out a bone graft to strengthen the jawbone before implants are inserted.
One alternative for patients who can’t have conventional implants is mini dental implants. These are similar in structure to their larger counterparts but have a thinner root – about the width of a toothpick. This means that less bone is needed to hold them in place.
If you have been told you can’t have implants because you have suffered jawbone loss or your bone density is too low, mini implants may still be an option.
An added benefit of mini implants is they can usually be fitted in a single visit – no need to wait 3-6 months for the implant to settle.
Types of implant and tooth reconstruction
When it comes to the implant itself, there are two main types.
The first is the endosteal implant. These are inserted directly into the jawbone and hold one or more artificial teeth in place via abutments. They look like small screws, either tapered or cylindrical.
The other is the subperiosteal implant. This implant has a metal base which is fitted under the gum tissue but above or on the jawbone. The artificial teeth are fitted in the same way, to supports which protrude from the gums. This type is less common but is an alternative for patients with a shallow jawbone that won’t support endosteal implants.
The following animation shows the different components of an endosteal implant being placed:
Dental implant materials
There are different materials that can be used for the part of the implant inserted into your jawbone, which functions like a tooth root.
Titanium implants are most commonly used, and are considered the best dental implants by many dental surgeons. This metal is incredibly strong and is biocompatible with your jawbone, meaning there should be no reaction and the bone naturally grows around it over time. The implants are not made from pure titanium as this is too soft; instead various alloys have been developed.
For people who don’t like the idea of having metal implanted in their bodies, various ceramics and polymers are available. By far the most common alternative to titanium is zirconia implants. Although this material contains traces of metal, it is classed as a ceramic.
So how do you decide which is best for you? Because titanium has been used in implants for much longer than zirconia, more studies have been conducted to demonstrate its safety, effectiveness and longevity. Many dentists therefore feel more comfortable recommending titanium.
There is also the matter of versatility. Titanium implants come in two parts: the implant and abutment. Because the abutment is fitted separately, there is some flexibility to adjust the position of the crown placed on top. Zirconia implants, on the other hand, usually don’t have a separate abutment.
Some studies suggest that zirconia, although extremely strong, is more susceptible to material flaws than titanium. Pores and microcracks in the material can cause the material to fracture, meaning zirconia implants have a slightly higher failure rate.
Finally, titanium implants are typically less expensive than zirconia. All of these factors point towards titanium as the best option, unless you particularly want to avoid metal or you know you are allergic to any of the metals used in titanium alloys. Still, you can discuss the options with your dentist and ask their advice if you have any concerns.
Dentures vs. dental bridges vs. implants
Remembering that an ‘implant’ is simply the artificial root inserted to hold replacement teeth in place, we can now turn our attention to the different types of replacement tooth available.
The terminology can get a little confusing here since one word can refer to different things.
When a single tooth needs to be replaced, the implant will be fitted with an individual crown. This is different from the type of crown used to repair a broken tooth. The non-implant alternative is a bridge which affixes to the two adjacent teeth and fills the gap. The downside of a traditional bridge is it requires healthy teeth to be shaved down.
Where two or more teeth in a row are missing, an implant bridge may be used. Rather than inserting one implant for each tooth, just two implants can be used to support a row of three or four artificial teeth fused together.
Here you can see an animation which shows how a three-tooth bridge is fitted using two implants:
If all the teeth in the jaw need to be replaced, denture implants may be the solution. These consist of a full set of plastic or porcelain teeth attached to a gum-colored acrylic base.
Whereas traditional dentures sit on the gum and are affixed with adhesive, implant-retained dentures clip onto fixed abutments and are much more sturdy. Denture implants tend to present fewer problems with eating and speech than traditional dentures. There is also no risk of them slipping out of place in the middle of a conversation or a meal.
Another benefit of implants is they can help stabilize the jaw, prevent greater bone loss, and maintain the natural shape of the jawline.
Although single-tooth implants and denture implants cost more up-front than conventional alternatives, they can be cheaper in the long run since they are designed to be much longer-lasting.
Full mouth dental implants
Patients who have lost all their teeth may also consider full mouth implants. Unlike implant dentures, these are permanently fixed in place. Many people prefer the idea of having fixed teeth rather than ones they have to remove for cleaning.
It’s usually not necessary to insert an individual root for each tooth since a single implant root is strong enough to support several teeth if it’s placed well.
Solutions such as All-on-4 implants allow a full set of teeth to be placed using just four implants for the lower jaw. The upper jaw requires six since the bone density is lower. The implants are angled at 30 or 45 degrees to give them a stronger hold. This is a cheaper option than traditional implant technology which would require 8-10 implants in each jaw. Note that this type of implant is only available in titanium, since zirconia implants can’t be placed at such a sharp angle.
An added benefit of All-on-4 implants is the entire surgery is usually completed within a day, so you won’t need to make as many visits to the dentist. This is what gives them the nickname “teeth in a day”.
Dental implant procedure
Implant dentistry, or “implantology”, involves several stages. The work can be carried out by a dentist with the adequate advanced training, a periodontist, or an oral surgeon.
Before the operation, a meticulous examination ought to be carried out. Your dentist will review the nerves, sinuses and bone structure around the area to be treated. This usually involves an x-ray of your jaw, but other scans may be required. A computed tomography (CT) scan is the most accurate type of radiography available – this will let your dental surgeon assess the current state of your jawbone and oral structure.
Your teeth and gums will be examined and any related problems will be treated before the dental implant surgery is carried out.
Patients who have low bone density or a damaged jawbone may first need a bone graft to strengthen the jaw. This involves removing bone from another part of the body and inserting it where the implant is to be placed. Bone is often taken from a different part of the jaw but may come from the shin or hip.
Having a bone graft delays the tooth implant procedure considerably since it can be anywhere from three months to a year before the bone can support an implant.
Another thing that can prolong the process is extractions. If you need to have a damaged or decayed tooth removed in preparation for the implant, you’ll usually have to wait a month or two between these steps. In some cases, however, it’s possible to extract a tooth and insert the implant on the same day.
Placing the implant
The placement of implants in or on the jawbone is classed as an outpatient procedure, which means no overnight hospital stay is needed. It can take place at your dentist’s clinic, usually with a local anesthetic. Nervous patients can usually request IV sedation to make the procedure less stressful.
Your dentist will advise you on what’s best according to the number of implant teeth planned, the complexity of the operation, and your anxiety level.
The procedure itself consists of several steps. The first step is to make an incision in the gum to expose the bone. Next, a hole is drilled where the tooth implant is to be placed in the jaw. Then, the implant itself is screwed into place.
This is, understandably, a difficult procedure with little room for error. Dentists must undergo specialist training so they know exactly where and how to place the implant to make it last as long as possible. In China, where there is a shortage of qualified dentists, they’re working on robot technology that can accurately place dental implants without human involvement. The first successful placement of an implant by a robot dentist took place in 2017!
Once the implant is in place, the gum is stitched or secured over the implant to protect the area from any debris that may enter it, for example, while eating or chewing.
During the complete healing process, which can take four to six months, the implant fuses with the bone – a process called osseointegration. This is why implants use materials such as titanium which are biocompatible with our bodies.
Installing the abutment
Once osseointegration is complete, the abutment is installed. This is an extension that protrudes from the gums and connects the replacement tooth, or crown, to the implant.
The gum above the implant has to be opened up again to place this abutment. Again, this procedure is an outpatient operation that only needs a local anesthetic. Once the abutment is in place the gum is closed around it, but not covering it this time.
In some cases, it’s possible to put in both the implant and the abutment during the same surgery. No long-term negative effects have been reported from doing this, as long as the area has sufficient time to heal.
Your dentist may be able to provide you with a temporary denture or bridge to wear while the gum tissue around the abutment heals. This avoids the awkwardness of people seeing you with metal stumps poking out where your teeth should be.
Around 2 weeks later the gum tissue should be completely healed. This marks the end of the surgery, and it’s time to get the crowns made.
Fitting the crown
Once your mouth has recovered fully, you’ll visit the dentist again to begin the process of making your crown. After taking fresh dental impressions, your dental surgeon will shape the replacement tooth to fit your existing tooth structure.
The color of the crown will be matched to the surrounding teeth to make it look as natural as possible. This is especially important with a front tooth implant.
A lot of work goes into planning, creating and placing implants. In the following video, a dentist explains some of what goes on behind the scenes as part of the tooth implant procedure:
Once ready, the crown is attached to the abutment.
Dentures and some bridges use a clip-on abutment which allows them to be removed for cleaning. Single-tooth implants and other types of bridges are fixed in place permanently.
After each stage of the process, your body will take time to recover. It’s common to experience some discomfort during this recovery time, including:
- Swollen gums and/or face
- Bruised gums and skin
- Pain around the implant area
- Slight bleeding
Most dental surgeons now use stitches that dissolve by themselves as the wound heals. If you don’t get self-dissolving stitches, you’ll need to make another trip to have them removed.
The above symptoms should all lessen in the days following your treatment. If you notice swelling, pain or bleeding getting worse, you should contact your dentist straight away. It may be that you need antibiotics or stronger painkillers.
Dentists will usually advise that you eat on the opposite side of your mouth or avoid certain hard or chewy foods for a few days after each surgery, to allow time for your implants to settle. You’ll need to visit your dentist more often than usual so he or she can check your progress.
Once the process is complete and you have recovered fully, you’ll be able to eat normally. Implant teeth are usually just as strong as natural teeth. However, it’s of utmost importance that you brush and floss every day to keep your gums, implants, and remaining natural teeth healthy. A water flosser can help you gently clean around any teeth implants you have.
Dental implant cost comparison
It’s difficult to accurately compare tooth implant prices since there are so many variables. Costs will depend on:
- The condition of your gums and existing teeth
- Your general oral health
- The current state of your jaw bone
- Whether surgery such as a bone graft or sinus lift is needed
- How many teeth are being replaced, and how many implants are required
- Whether you need an implant on your upper or lower jaw, and at the front or back
- The type of implant and tooth replacement
- Your location
Still, we will provide some general dental implant cost information in this section so you can get an idea of what you might have to pay for teeth implants.
Note that some dentists may offer cheaper implants which are not such good quality. While they present an initial saving, they usually aren’t guaranteed for as long, so they could end up costing you more in the long run. With something as important as your teeth, the cheapest option is not always the best.
Getting a quotation
Your dentist may be able to give you a cost estimate without a consultation but won’t be able to provide a final price before first examining your teeth, gums, and jawbone.
Some dentists provide a single price for a complete implant, while others break it down so you can see the cost of each individual component and procedure.
When you receive a quote for dental work, be sure to check whether the following things are included or will be charged separately:
- Dental impressions
- CT scans
- Follow-up visits
- Every part of the implant (root, abutment, crown/bridge/denture)
- All surgical procedures
Sometimes, implant patients need preparatory surgeries such as a bone graft or sinus lift. This is usually the case if you have suffered bone loss for some reason. The cost of this work can be anywhere from $300 to $5,000 in the US, so this is something you’ll have to factor in when deciding whether you can afford implants.
Some clinics may lure you in with offers of cheap implants, but once you add on the cost of the crown, surgery, and scans, it’s not so affordable after all. Get several quotes from local dentists before you decide on one – you may be surprised how much they vary.
How much does a single tooth implant cost?
As a guideline, the total dental implant cost per tooth can be anywhere from $1,500 to $6,000 in the US. It’s often the case that front tooth implants cost slightly more than those at the rear of the mouth. If multiple single implants are needed, the cost per tooth should reduce slightly since some costs (such as x-rays and scans) only apply once.
Mini implants may be as much as 60-70% cheaper than conventional implants since the materials themselves cost less and the implant procedure is more straightforward.
How much do dental implants cost for a full mouth?
A 3 or 4-tooth bridge held in place by two implants can cost anywhere from $5,000.
If all teeth are missing, full dental implants cost $40,000 or more using traditional methods. As mentioned above, the overall state of your gums and jawbone will affect the cost of the procedure, as will the condition of any remaining teeth.
All-on-4 dental implants cost from around $15,000 per arch in the US but are available for much less if you’re willing to travel overseas (more on this below).
Be aware that these costs are just starting prices; the actual cost may be much higher if you need extractions and other preparatory work, and if you opt for more expensive materials.
If you can’t afford to pay for your treatment in full up-front, ask your dentist about payment plans. Most clinics have ways to help patients spread the cost of treatment. Aim for one with 0% interest, otherwise you’ll end up paying more in the long run.
Ways to get cheap dental implants
The best way to save on implants is simply to shop around. As well as researching the price of dental implants near you, consider broadening your search to nearby towns and cities. It may be worth traveling an extra half an hour for treatment if it means saving hundreds of dollars.
As a general rule, dental costs in urban areas will be cheaper than in cities, in line with property and rental prices. Where there is competition between several dentists in one place, this should help keep prices lower.
Also, consider taking out a dental insurance plan if you think you will soon need implants. Some insurance policies cover 20% to 50% of the cost of replacement teeth, although it can be as little as 10% depending on your level of cover. In the US, many dental plans for seniors include implant cover.
However, keep in mind that most policies have an annual payout limit which is below the average cost of an implant. There is also usually a waiting period of six months to a year before you’ll be covered for implants.
Always read the small print carefully before signing up for dental coverage. Check how much you will need to pay yourself for each part of the procedure and how long you will have to wait before being allowed to claim for this type of treatment. Many providers only cover checkups and emergency treatment for an initial waiting period. There may also be restrictions on work to treat pre-existing conditions.
You can read our full article on how to save money on implants, including getting treatment at a dental school.
How much are dental implants abroad?
With the cost of private dentistry in the US so high, many people look further afield for affordable dental implants.
Patients can save as much as 70% on implants and other dental treatments by traveling abroad, a trend which has become known as ‘dental tourism’.
By traveling to Mexico or Costa Rica, for example, you may be able to get teeth implants for $1,000 or less. Several of Mexico’s border towns are accessible overland and receive hundreds of dental patients every day.
You may also turn your trip into more of a vacation by visiting a more exotic destination like Thailand or the Philippines. Or, visit one of several European countries renowned for their high-quality dental work.
Even taking into account the price of flights and accommodation, these trips can easily work out cheaper than the cost of implants alone back home. If you need full mouth implants or have several missing teeth, the savings from getting treatment abroad will multiply.
You might worry that lower prices mean lower standards, but in fact, the opposite is often true. In destinations that have become popular for dental tourism, dentists have invested heavily in modern, state-of-the-art equipment.
There is also a much stronger emphasis on good service and making the experience comfortable and enjoyable. Some clinics go as far as to provide patients with a luxury spa experience during their stay.
Find out more about your options in our full guide to dental tourism.
American patients often choose to travel to South American countries for cheaper treatment, since these are the closest. Others hop across the Pacific to Southeast Asia. In the table below you can see approximate costs for a single dental implant in countries that are popular alternatives to the US.
|Destination||Capital city||Approx. cost of dental implant|
|Average price for an implant in the US is $4,000|
|Costa Rica||San José||$800|
|Prices don't include medical insurance, flights, or accommodation costs|
Traditional implant treatment requires several visits over a number of months. Making this many trips does cause some inconvenience with time off work, amongst other things. Because of this, overseas clinics commonly offer single-visit implant options such as mini implants and All-on-4 implants (also called ‘teeth in a day’).
Before committing to any dental treatment abroad you should first:
- Choose a dentist you feel comfortable communicating with
- Read online reviews of that dentist and clinic from people who have had treatment there
- Check the governing bodies for dentistry in that country
- Request and verify your chosen dentist’s qualifications and experience
- Ask how long you will need to stay for treatment and recovery, and how many trips will be required
- Understand exactly what is and isn’t covered in the price you have been quoted
- Calculate the total cost of all trips and treatment and compare this to treatment at your local dentist
- Speak to your regular dentist to get advice and find out about aftercare
Are implants right for me?
It’s understandable that you may be unsure whether implants are the best option for you – especially considering the costs involved. Your dentist will be able to answer a lot of your questions, but there are other ways to get information to help you decide.
If you have any friends, family or colleagues who have had implants, ask them if they have any advice or recommendations. You may be surprised to find out how many people have had the procedure.
You can also read about other people’s experiences (both with a particular dentist and with implants in general) by checking dental implant reviews online.
Don’t be shy about questioning potential dentists – you’re spending a lot with them, after all! In particular, ask to see some photos of dental implants before and after from previous clients, so you can judge how natural they look.
You’ll probably feel more comfortable choosing a dentist who has extensive experience with implant dentistry, although this may come at a premium.
Advantages and disadvantages
We can sum up the advantages of tooth implants as follows:
- Permanent, long-lasting solution to tooth loss
- Stable and durable
- Can’t be misplaced since they aren’t removable
- No issues with speech
- Allow normal eating
- Look and feel like natural teeth
- No adhesives or special cleaning required
- Don’t affect adjacent healthy teeth
- Success rate of 90-95%
There are some drawbacks to having implants, of course. It’s important to be aware of these before deciding to go ahead with any surgery:
- Some people may not feel comfortable with the invasive surgery involved
- Pain and swelling are expected after surgery
- There is a slight risk of infection following surgery
- It’s possible for implants to damage nerves and sinuses
- Patients who don’t maintain good oral health may experience complications
- Although a long-term solution, they may need to be replaced after a decade or so.
The only other thing that may be holding you back is the cost of implants. Although a high initial investment, implants can prove less expensive in the long run than alternatives such as dentures and bridges. This is because implants are designed to be long-lasting and are less likely to get damaged or become uncomfortable.
Below is a table which sums up much of the information in this article so you can easily compare implants with other options you may be considering.
|Treatment||Implants||Bridges (fixed to adjacent teeth)||Traditional dentures||None (don't replace missing teeth)|
|Cost||High - the most expensive tooth replacement option||Cheaper solution to fill a single or double tooth gap||Cheaper solution to replace a full arch of teeth||Free|
|Longevity||Designed to be long-lasting (at least 10 years); possible to last a lifetime if maintained well||5-15 years, possibly longer||5-10 years, possibly longer||-|
|Comfort||Like natural teeth||Not noticeable if fitted properly||Become less comfortable as the mouth naturally changes shape; require adhesive to stay in place||Eating may be uncomfortable; risk of gum disease|
|Procedure||Jawbone surgery, multiple visits over several months (for conventional implants)||Requires removal of enamel on adjacent teeth||Any existing teeth must be removed||None|
|Appearance||Like natural teeth||Like natural teeth||May look artificial||Gap in teeth, obvious if at the front|
|Risks||Can become infected; small chance or rejection or complications||Bone and adjacent teeth may deteriorate over time||Can be lost; cause mouth sores if ill-fitting; may slip while being worn||Jawbone and surrounding teeth at risk of deterioration; may cause problems eating or speaking|
There’s no denying that the cost of dental implants in the US – and even in ‘cheaper’ overseas destinations – is significant. The question you have to ask yourself is, “How much are teeth implants worth to me?”.
Having a confident smile can make a big difference to people in their careers, their love lives, and their social lives. You might view implants as an investment in your well-being for many years to come.
Before committing to any surgery, be sure to shop around to find a competitive price in your area. Don’t be afraid to ask your dentist plenty of questions so you understand the procedure.