Interventions for replacing missing teeth: management of soft tissues for dental implants

Dental implants are usually placed by elevating a soft tissue flap, but in some instances, they can also be placed without flap elevation to reduce postoperative discomfort. Several flap and suturing techniques have been proposed. Soft tissues are often manipulated and augmented for aesthetic reasons. It is often recommended that implants are surrounded by 'firm' (attached/keratinised) soft tissues rather than 'movable' gums to improve their long-term prognosis.
The review found some weak evidence from only two studies with 56 patients that flapless placement of dental implants reduces postoperative discomfort (pain and swelling), without jeopardising implant success in selected patients. There is insufficient evidence to recommend any specific flap or suturing technique. There is only a small study (10 patients) suggesting that soft tissue grafts from the palate improve gum thickness and aesthetics. There are no studies evaluating whether there is a benefit in increasing the amount of firm gum surrounding dental implants but there is a small trial suggesting that it is possible to increase the amount of firm gum surrounding dental implants using either tissue taken from the palate or a porcine-derived collagen matrix at the price of considerable postoperative pain/discomfort and aesthetic deterioration (there were several cases where the gum receded exposing the metal of the implant).

Authors' conclusions: 

There is limited weak evidence suggesting that flapless implant placement is feasible and has been shown to reduce patient postoperative discomfort in adequately selected patients, that augmentation at implant sites with soft tissue grafts is effective in increasing soft tissue thickness improving aesthetics and that one technique to increase the height of keratinised mucosa using autografts or an animal-derived collagen matrix was able to achieve its goal but at the price of a worsened aesthetic outcome (0.5 mm of recession). There is insufficient reliable evidence to provide recommendations on which is the ideal flap design, the best soft tissue augmentation technique, whether techniques to increase the width of keratinised/attached mucosa are beneficial to patients or not, and which are the best incision/suture techniques/materials. Properly designed and conducted RCTs, with at least 6 months of follow-up, are needed to provide reliable answers to these questions.

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Background: 

Dental implants are usually placed by elevating a soft tissue flap, but in some instances, they can also be placed flapless reducing patient discomfort. Several flap designs and suturing techniques have been proposed. Soft tissues are often manipulated and augmented for aesthetic reasons. It is often recommended that implants are surrounded by a sufficient width of attached/keratinised mucosa to improve their long-term prognosis.

Objectives: 

To evaluate whether (1a) flapless procedures are beneficial for patients, and (1b) which is the ideal flap design; whether (2a) soft tissue correction/augmentation techniques are beneficial for patients, and (2b) which are the best techniques; whether (3a) techniques to increase the peri-implant keratinised mucosa are beneficial for patients, and (3b) which are the best techniques; and (4) which are the best suturing techniques/materials.

Search strategy: 

The following electronic databases were searched: the Cochrane Oral Health Group Trials Register (to 9 June 2011), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 2), MEDLINE via OVID (1950 to 9 June 2011), EMBASE via OVID (1980 to 9 June 2011). Several dental journals were handsearched. There were no language restrictions.

Selection criteria: 

All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of root-form osseointegrated dental implants, with a follow-up of at least 6 months after function, comparing various techniques to handle soft tissues in relation to dental implants. Outcome measures, according to the different hypotheses, were: prosthetic and implant failures, biological complications, aesthetics evaluated by patients and dentists, postoperative pain, marginal peri-implant bone level changes on periapical radiographs, patient preference, ease of maintenance by patient, soft tissue thickness changes and attached/keratinised mucosa height changes.

Data collection and analysis: 

Screening of eligible studies, assessment of the methodological quality of the trials and data extraction were conducted at least in duplicate and independently by two or more review authors. Trial authors were contacted for missing information. Results were expressed using risk ratios for dichotomous outcomes and mean differences for continuous outcomes with 95% confidence intervals.

Main results: 

Seventeen potentially eligible RCTs were identified but only six trials with 138 patients in total could be included. One study was at low risk of bias, two studies were judged to be at unclear risk of bias and three at high risk of bias. Two trials (56 patients) compared flapless placement of dental implants with conventional flap elevation, one trial (10 patients) compared crestal versus vestibular incisions, one trial (20 patients) Erbium:YAG laser versus flap elevation at the second-stage surgery for implant exposure, one split-mouth trial (10 patients) evaluated whether connective tissue graft at implant placement could be effective in augmenting peri-implant tissues, and one trial (40 patients) compared autograft with an animal-derived collagen matrix to increase the height of the keratinised mucosa. On a patient, rather than per implant basis, implants placed with a flapless technique and implant exposures performed with laser induced statistically significantly less postoperative pain than flap elevation. Sites augmented with soft tissues connective grafts showed a better aesthetic and thicker tissues. Both palatal autografts or the use of a porcine-derived collagen matrix are effective in increasing the height of keratinised mucosa at the price of a 0.5 mm recession of peri-implant soft tissues. There were no other statistically significant differences for any of the remaining analyses.

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