Good things come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. With things like miniature golf, miniature ponies, and mini coopers, it’s clear that smaller versions are sometimes trendier than their counterpart sources.

When it comes to dental implants, you may have heard of the term mini, and wondered, what are mini dental implants? And just so you’re not confused, you may have also seen mini dental implants referred to as “MDIs” sometimes. It’s just a three-letter acronym. MDI refers to the same thing. I know, just what the medical industry needs, more terminology right?

So you’re probably thinking, mini dental implants are smaller, they must cost less right? Well they do, but there’s more to it than that. We’ll answer what they are, when would you get them, and how long do mini dental implants last. Then we’ll talk about cost, once you understand the tradeoffs.

As you know, I’ll tell it like it is based on what the research shows us. We’ll discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly about mini dental implants, and I’ll share with you the secret why you probably don’t want them.

Learn the Basics of Dental Implants

All dental implants, be it traditional or mini dental implants, replace the roots of missing teeth to serve as a foundation for prosthetic teeth. Dental implants are as versatile a building block as legos. Once a dental implant is placed, it can serve several functions. An implant may hold restore a single tooth with a dental crowns, multiple teeth with a dental bridge, or serve as a base to tighten a loose denture.

Dental implants are placed directly into the bone, in a similar position to how the roots of natural teeth exist. For teeth and implants, bone is a very important component for success. We’ll discuss how bone is important for how long mini dental implants last, but more on that later.

We talked about how dental implants are versatile. They provide a platform for which a connector can attach. The connector is called an abutment. The abutment may be in the shape of a button to allow a denture to attach, or it may be in the shape of a stump to allow a prosthetic tooth to slide over, fitting tightly into place like a sleeve. Regardless of how dental implants are used, they provide one of the most natural-looking and functioning options available.

Differences in Regular and Mini Dental Implants

Dental Implants are divided into two categories, mainly by their size, specifically the diameter. The two types are traditional dental implants and mini dental implants.

Like a height restriction on a roller coaster, the cutoff for a mini dental implant is 3mm or less. When the diameter of the dental implant is larger than 3mm it is considered a traditional implant.

Now, why does the diameter matter? All human teeth have a root diameter that is 3mm or larger. Replacing a tooth with a similar diameter implant makes sense, right? When we start considering using a smaller diameter, it can be done, but there are some compromises compared to what nature planned for us. Traditional dental implants most closely replicate natural roots of teeth.

Traditional implants usually comprise two pieces with a diameter of 3 to 5 millimeters that are inserted into the bone of missing teeth. The structure itself is a titanium screw that simulates the anatomy of a root of a tooth.

Mini dental implants may be two pieces to hold a dental crown like traditional implants, but may also be a solid, one-piece screw, with a special ball-shaped end precisely designed to attach to dentures. Because of their smaller size, mini implants are also called narrow diameter implants or small diameter implants (NDIs and SDIs).

How Mini Dental Implants Work and When are They Needed?

how mini dental implants work illustration

Mini dental implants provide an option to restore tooth-like traditional dental implants. However, they are smaller, so why would you use them? The answer is, the bone, specifically the lack thereof.

When a tooth was missing for an extended time, or when a tooth has severe periodontal disease, the width and height bone dewindles. Thats why people missing many teeth develop a sunken look as they age. Why does it matter for dental implants? Because there needs to be sufficient thickness of bone on either side of an implant to hold it.

Think of the foundation of a house without any soil surrounding it. It has less stability, right? The same thing happens with dental implants. If there is insufficent bone for a traditional size implant,we have the option to place a narrow mini dental implant that can tight rope down the center of thinner bone.

From a clinical perspective, you can think of mini dental implants as a compromise. It allows your implant dentist to place an implant in situations where the bone is inadequate. The alternative is to consider bone grafting the area to increase the amount of bone.

Now, from a clinical perspective, bone grafting is the ideal avenue, but there are tradeoffs. Bone grafting requires time for the bone to heal strong enough to support a dental implant, typically 4-6 months. Bone grafting is also an additional expense, and isn’t always 100% guarenteed that the body will generate bone width comparable to prior width. After knowing that, it is not as simple of a determination in some circumstances.

Are Mini Dental Implants Permanent?

Yes, mini dental implants are a permanent tooth replacement option for one tooth or to support a denture.

You should understand that mini dental implants do have limitations. MDIs can replace a small single front tooth, or several mini dental implants can support the load of a denture. When forces on the mini dental implants are mild or moderate, they can predictably last as permanent.

Mini Dental Implant Benefits

There are 3 main benefits:

  • Mini dental implants allow placement of teeth in areas where the bone is insufficient, particularly where traditional dental implants would not be possible
  • The healing of mini dental implants may be shorter duration compared to traditional dental implants
  • Mini dental implants cost less than traditional implants. In case you’re wondering, they are about 50% less cost to be specific.

Before we move on, I want to talk about a benefit that is often touted by some implant dentists. You may have heard you can complete mini dental implants within a single visit. And yes, that it true, but with some caveats. You have probably seen it advertised that you can walk out of your dentist’s office with a dazzling smile all in one day. Sounds great right?

In theory, it is great, but here’s the deal; loading an implant in the same day is a tradeoff. You’re trading speed for some increased risk of complications. It’s not necessarily a foolproof idea.

Studies show immediate loading of dental implants, mini or traditional, can be done, but it decreases the success rate and increases the chance of complications. And here’s the kicker, same-day loading is possible with conventional dental implants, the same as it is with mini dental implants. After all why would a smaller implant be more equipped to be in service sooner? For some reason, you’ll notice more advertising of same-day mini dental implants compared to a traditional implant. I’m not sure why, its just a marketing trend. Either way, it’s a bit of a catch-22 for long term success.

Disadvantages of Mini Dental Implants

As with anything, you have to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of the alternatives for your particular situation. Here’s a clean breakdown of what you need to consider in terms of difficulties of mini dental implants:

  • The success rate of mini dental implants is about 90%, while the success rate of traditional dental implants is approximately 97%.
  • Mini dental implants restore teeth when the bone quantity is deficient, and the bone quality is poor. However, a point is reached when the bone is compromised and even if a mini dental implant can be done, the success rate may be low.
  • Although mini dental implants are less expensive than traditional dental implants, MDIs have to be fitted in groups to provide maximum benefit. Comparing mini dental implants to traditional dental implants, more MDIs will need to be placed to support the same load of bite force.
  • If you clench or grind your teeth which is a common symptom of TMJ dysfunction, mini dental implants may not be suitable for heavy grinding. If you have been diagnosed with TMJ disorder, it’s best to discuss with a TMJ specialist before having complex implant dentistry.
  • Mini dental implants help secure loose dentures. When used to secure dentures, mini dental implants do require some maintenance. The buttons that secure the denture are called, O-rings. You’ll need to have the O-rings replaced every 1-2 years for optimum function.

How Long Do Mini Dental Implants Last?

longevity image how long do dental implants last

The lifespan of mini implants varies depending on a number of factors; some of the factors that decrease the lifespan of mini dental implants are:

  • Osteoporosis, periodontal disease, or other bone diseases
  • Smoking
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Autoimmune disease

So the answer to you’re burning question, How Long Do Mini Dental Implants Last? It can be a lifetime, but not always. A study found that 92.1% of mini dental implants lasted more than 3.5 years, and that most of the failures that did occur happened within the first 6 months after surgery. Therefore, after initial healing, success is more predictable with mini dental implants.

The Cost Of Mini Dental Implants

Probably one of the most burning questions is, of course, how much do mini dental implants cost? The easy answer is: mini dental implants are less than traditional implants. However, keep in mind that you generally need more minis to do the same function as a traditional.

A common average price of a mini dental implant can be between $500 and $1,500, depending on if you are in a rural area vs. a major city. Keep in mind that this is less than a traditional implant. Traditionals cost between $1,500 to $3,500 for the implant without restoration, the crown or denture is a separate cost.

Let’s look at some additional food for thought. Here’s some additional factors that affect the cost of mini dental implants:

  • If you choose to have multiple MDIs placed at the same time, then prices are generally lower compared to having implants inserted at different times.
  • It’s not just about the implant. There may be costs for diagnostic tests, including x-rays and CT scans prior to surgery, and also you will have to budget for the restoration that is on top of the implant.
  • Location is a big factor in the cost of dental treatment. Mini dental implant price is usually higher in large metropolitan cities.
  • Insurance may cover some of the cost of mini dental implants, typically about 50% as a ballpark. Dentists usually offer monthly payment plans or will have the details of third-party finance companies to help make financing your treatment more manageable.

For more information on how much traditional dental implants cost check out my blog post linked here.

Success Rates of Mini Dental Implants

MDIs could potentially last as long as traditional dental implants, but their longevity depends on the environment they are placed in. When I talk about the environment, I mean how much bone is stabilizing the implant, how well the patient is cleaning the implant, and what’s the health and lifestyle of the patient.

As we discussed, the lifespan of mini dental implants is less than that of traditional implants, about 7-8% less success rate. However, the good news is, most of those mini dental implant failures occur in the first 6-12 months of healing.

Candidates for Mini Dental Implants

The best candidates for mini dental implants are healthy patients that do not have enough bone for traditional dental implants, particularly in cases where bone grafting is not a good option. If you’ve recently lost one or more teeth, your dentist may recommend mini dental implants. They are used in overall plan to restore one or more teeth and improve the function of the patient.

If I had to select an avatar for who benefits most from mini dental implants, here’s what I’d say: A patient who has been wearing a denture for a long…long…time. The patient’s denture may now be fitting loose and there isn’t enough bone to hold traditional dental implants.

Now you have to understand, when a denture is fitting loose, the patient can’t chew effectively. The patient often is fustrated when eatting and develops GI issues because they are swallowing food more whole. By adding mini dental implants, an old denture can be revitalized to function securely like new again.

Are Mini Dental Implants a Good Choice for You?

So its time to answer the big-ticket question, are mini dental implants right for you? Here’s how I’ll answer that. I began with a bold statement: you probably don’t want mini dental implants. It’s a little misleading of a statement. We’ll discuss what I really mean.

Mini dental implants are a compromise. Let’s think of this in terms of ice cream. Ice cream always makes things simple. Think of if you loved cookie dough ice cream. You head to the ice cream shop with some friends, only to discover, they are out of cookie dough. So what do you do? You pick your next favorite flavor. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. Mini dental implants are similar. They are usually not an ideal option, but they sometimes are the best option available given the situation. In this case, there is enough bone for a mini, but not enough for a traditional dental implant.

And that is the answer to my riddle. Mini dental implants are a good option, but view them as a compromise. You probably don’t want them if you could dream of the ideal situation for replacing missing teeth.