What Are Mini Dental Implants?

First of all, “mini” dental implant is not a legitimate term. In fact, the term “mini dental implant” was coined as a marketing gimmick.

A mini dental implant is actually a “Transitional Implant,” which is defined as: any dental implant with a diameter of less than 3.0 mm. When dentists use mini dental implants improperly, patients suffer. Thus, mini dental implants are a big reason for dental lawsuits.

Why is the Definition of Mini Dental Implants Important?

mini dental implants and dental malpracticeWhen they did studies back in the 1980s, they found that anything with a diameter less than 3mm never integrated into the bone. In other words, you can place a “mini” dental implant and at any time over the life of the patient, you can “back the implant out” or unscrew it. That’s because there’s not enough surface area to achieve permanent integration into the bone. Put another way, there is not enough surface area to withstand the torque such that you can always remove a mini dental implant by hand.

The mini dental implant was never intended to be a permanent solution. So, why do dentists use them? The answer is money. Mini implants are cheaper for the doctor.

Mini Implants vs. Traditional Implants

Mini dental implants are defined by their diameter. Anything less than 3mm is defined as a temporary, or mini dental implant. Anything greater than 3mm in diameter is defined as a traditional implant. Mini dental implants are designed to stabilize a denture or artificial teeth while the traditional dental implants heal.

Mini Dental Implants Pros and Cons

The only pros of mini dental implants is their use as intended. In other words, they are beneficial as temporary or transitional implants that can support artificial teeth while the conventional implants heal.

The cons of mini dental implants are evident when they are used as permanent fixtures, something they are not designed for. They do not have the same surface area as a conventional implant, and thus they are more prone to becoming unstable. If a mini dental implant becomes dislodged and begins moving around in the bone, it can cause serious problems. For example, if it becomes dislodges on the bottom jaw, it may cause damage to the inferior alveolar nerve. If it becomes dislodged in the upper jaw, it may migrate into the sinus. Additionally, if a mini dental implant comes loose while the patient is asleep, it may end up in the patient’s lungs. It sounds gruesome, but you’d be surprised how often this happens.

Big Disadvantages of Mini Dental Implants

The big disadvantage of mini dental implants is the extremely high rate of failure when used as permanent replacements. They are defined by their narrow diameter, a diameter of less than 3mm. This definition came from the studies of bone healing to implants. This is also called “osseointegration.” An implant with a diameter less than 3mm will fail to integrate predictably, and so mini dental implants are designated to be a temporary or transitional implant.

For the reasons above, a dentist should never place a mini dental implant in the upper jaw of a patient. The results of this type of improper dentistry can be catastrophic. For example, because mini dental implants don’t have sufficient surface area, they may dislodge and migrate into the patient’s sinus. This can cause serious damage to the sinus, and it can cause horrific and continuous sinus infections. An x-ray of this looks like a stack of screws in the patient’s sinus. It’s a horrifying sight, and it’s often overlooked for weeks or even months.

Cost of Mini Dental Implants

Surprisingly, the doctors using mini dental implants as permanent replacements charge nearly the same amount of money per implant as more conservative doctors charge for traditional implants.

The mini dental implant itself, procedure aside, can cost anywhere from say $35 to $125. A traditional or conventional dental implant, however, will typically cost between $350 and $750. That’s why a lot of dentists love to use mini dental implants: Their profit margin is much higher.

Are Mini Dental Implants Permanent?

Mini dental implants are not permanent implants. They were originally designed to be used as temporary implants to stabilize a temporary prosthesis until the traditional implants healed. There are doctors using them as permanent replacements, but they are not designed for permanent use.

The only time it may be acceptable to use mini dental implants long-term when they are placed in the area above the chin, where your bottom 6 front teeth are. Note that the FDA has approved them in this area for long-term use, but they are not a permanent solution.

When Should a Mini Dental Implant Be Used?

Let’s say a dentist wants to take out all of a patient’s teeth and place conventional implants (anything over 3mm) in the sockets. While the conventional implants are healing, there is nothing there to attach temporary teeth to. So, a dentist could take transitional implants, mini dental implants, and screw them between the sockets, where the conventional implants are, and now the dentist has something sticking through the gum that the dentist can attach teeth to while the conventional implants integrate into the bone and heal, which is roughly a 3- to 6-month process.

After 6 months or so, the dentist can then take off the temporary teeth that were attached to the transitional implants, remove the mini dental implants, and then go through the process of attaching more permanent teeth to the conventional implants.

Do You Need a Bone Graft Where The Mini Dental Implants Were?

In most cases, you do not need a bone graft in the hole left behind by mini dental implants. Dr. Dennis Tarnow did the research in this area and developed an idea dentists refer to as “Gap theory.” According to Tarnow’s research, when an implant with a diameter under 3mm is removed, the hole left behind by the mini dental implant will fill in on its own, and thus there is no need for bone grafts. In other words, you can simply back out a mini-implant, and the hole will fill up with bone on its own, without added bone graft material.

How Long Do Mini Dental Implants Last?

Mini dental implants do not completely attach to the bone in most cases, so after time they loosen and must be removed. If this happens, it typically occurs within 12 months of placement. This self-limiting characteristic works well with the timeline for the traditional implants to heal. In other words, the mini dental implants can hold up long enough for the conventional dental implants to integrate into the patient’s bone.

Are Mini Dental Implants Approved by The FDA As A Permanent Solution?

Mini implants were never approved by the FDA as a permanent solution. The FDA finally approved them for the bone in the lower anterior. So, directly above the chin, the FDA has approved mini dental implants for what’s called “long-term” use. Long-term use is not the same as permanent use. This is a critical distinction. Thus, if you have someone that has a permanent restoration on implants less than 3mm, that may qualify as dental malpractice.

Is It a Problem That Mini Dental Implants Can Easily Be Removed?

Not if they are used as intended, which is as transitional supports for a temporary prosthesis.

Once the traditional implants have time to attach to the bone properly, it’s helpful that the transitional implants can be removed with ease.

So, Mini Dental Implants Back Out Easily, That’s Not a Big Deal, Right?

It is a very big deal. If you look up x-rays on the internet involving mini dental implants, you’ll see that, when dentists used them on the upper, the mini dental implants can come loose and work their way into the patient’s sinus. In other words, the mini dental implants will migrate into the sinus and essentially live there until discovered. When you look at the x-ray, you can see what looks like a stack of pins in the sinus where these mini dental implants just migrated up into the patient’s sinus because they never integrated into the patient’s bone.

You’ll also see situations where the mini dental implants worked their way into the patient’s lungs because, when the patient fell asleep, the mini dental implants migrated out of the bone and ended up in the patient’s lungs. These are very serious cases and, obviously, could cause serious injury or death.

What Are the Symptoms If Mini Dental Implants Work Their Way Into The Patient’s Sinus?

A patient with mini dental implants in his or her sinus may experience chronic sinusitis, stuffy nose, and pain. The sinuses can get infected and cause pain and fever. It requires a procedure to repair the sinus. It’s called a modified Caldwell-Luke’s. The actual Caldwell-Luke’s procedure involves making a window in the sinus to go in and get stuff that doesn’t belong there, like mini dental implants, out of the patient’s sinus.