Dental implants are artificial roots for your teeth made of titanium rods that are inserted into your gums and jawbone. Replacement teeth are then attached to the implant and rest on top of your gums.
Implants are permanent, but depending on the type of denture you are fitted with, your dentures may be removable. Dental implants can be used with a single crown, a custom bridge, or full- or partial dentures, making them an incredibly secure and natural-looking solution for missing teeth.
Benefits of Dental Implant Surgery
One of the biggest benefits for dental implants is the security they provide denture wearers. Eating and talking with missing teeth can be challenging, and dentures can help with that—but they require a learning and adjustment period. Because false teeth are anchored to dental implants, they’ll feel more natural and you’ll feel more confident.
Some other advantages of dental implant surgery include:
- Protection for existing teeth and bone structure. If you have gaps in your mouth due to missing teeth, your existing teeth may naturally shift to fill the space. Dental implants fill these gaps, preventing movement which can otherwise cause dental health complications such as problems with your bite, gum pain, tooth decay, and periodontal disease.
- Bone loss prevention. When you lose a natural tooth, the root will die and the bone surrounding that root will begin to deteriorate. This can even cause your jawbone to recede, which could change the look and structure of your face. Dental implants can stop bone loss by acting as a new root to support your remaining teeth.
- Stimulating bone growth. Because they are inserted directly into your bone, dental implants will also stimulate bone growth around the implant site to fuse the implant to your jaw like it would with a normal root.. This will strengthen the overall structure and health of your teeth.
- Better overall fit and function. Dental implants are custom and permanent, so they feel like real teeth. And without a false palate from a denture covering the roof of your mouth, you’ll be able to live your life as you would with your natural teeth. Plus, there’s no need for denture creams or adhesives.
Types of Dental Implants
There are two main types of dental implants, as well as mini implants:
- Endosteal dental implants are the most common type and are implanted into your jawbone. They resemble small screws and one implant can be attached to one or multiple false teeth.
- Subperiosteal dental implants are inserted into the gum but rest on top of the bone. This type of implant is used when there’s not enough healthy jawbone to support an implant.
- Mini dental implants are a smaller, minimally-invasive version of endosteal implants. A titanium rod, no bigger than a toothpick, is surgically inserted into the jawbone for your false teeth to attach to. The smaller sized implant means less overall expense and recovery time, too, sometimes as little as one day.
Dental Implant Surgery: Step-By-Step
The procedure for dental implants involves multiple steps over a 3 to 9-month period and may require visits to different types of dental specialists. The total time, from initial evaluation to surgery and recovery, will depend on each individual patient and how many dental implants are required, whether you need tooth removal or bone grafting, and how quickly your jawbone heals.
Due to these factors, getting dental implants is not a one-step process. You will not have your new teeth until you add an abatement and crown to your implants, which can’t happen until your jawbone has healed and has grown around the implant to hold it in place. The treatment timeline for dental implant surgery will typically look like:
1. Consultation with a dentist
During your initial assessment, one of our dentists will examine your gums, jaw, and existing teeth to determine whether your mouth is healthy enough to support an implant and how many implants you’ll need. This often includes taking X-rays and impressions of your teeth.
If you have any oral health issues such as periodontal disease or an insufficient jawbone, you may need a bone graft, tooth extraction, or other procedure before you are ready for implants.
2. Follow-up appointment(s) and additional surgery preparation
If you are chosen as a qualified candidate for the implant procedure, you may need a few follow-up appointments and preparatory procedures such as any tooth extractions or jawbone grafting. You cannot receive your implants until your mouth has healed from these procedures.
You will also discuss your overall health history and current medications with your dentist to prepare for surgery.
3. Surgical placement of the implant in the jawbone
Once your mouth is healed and ready for the implant procedure, you will visit one of our offices to have the surgery done. This is an outpatient procedure — done under local anesthesia, IV sedation, or general anesthesia — and you will be home the same day. Your surgeon will typically use stitches that require you to return for removal.
If you are receiving an endosteal implant, an oral surgeon will cut into your gums to expose your jawbone. The implant will be inserted into a hole made in your bone. Subperiosteal implants, on the other hand, will be placed above the bone and the bone will not be drilled.
4. Healing and recovery period
You can expect to feel some discomfort and swelling following the dental implant procedure, no matter the type of implant you receive. This feeling may last several days, although many people are able to resume daily activities the day after surgery.
Over the next several months, the bone surrounding your implant(s) will continue to grow after it is inserted, helping secure it firmly in place as part of your natural gum line and function like a tooth root. It can take around 6 months for the screw to fully combine with your jawbone.
Because you will not receive your false teeth until sufficient regrowth has occurred, you will be given custom, temporary dentures to go home with following surgery while you wait for your gums and jaw to heal.
5. Adding an abutment
An abutment is a metal extender used to connect the implant to your replacement teeth to hold them in place. This procedure takes place after your implant has stabilized and involves local anesthesia. To place the abutment, the surgeon will reopen your gum to expose the implant, the abutment is attached, and the gum tissue is closed around the abutment.
Abutments are sometimes added during your initial implant procedure. Either way, your gums will need time to further heal after the abutment placement (about two weeks).
6. Fitting the final restoration
Once your gums are completely healed, you will come back into the office to get your custom set of permanent dentures, crown(s), or bridge placed on to your new implants. Your dentist will create more impressions of your mouth and use them to make your new teeth, but you won’t receive your dentures until your jawbone is strong enough to support them.
You can choose removable or fixed implants. Removable teeth are mounted onto a metal frame that is attached to the abutment. Fixed implants cannot be removed, even for cleaning, as they are permanently screwed or cemented to the abutment.
Aftercare and maintenance of dental implant surgery
Like any oral surgery, you may experience discomfort throughout each stage of the dental implant process such as swelling, bruising, and tenderness of your face and gums, as well as some minor bleeding. Eating soft foods and applying ice packs to sore areas can also be helpful during the healing process.
Your dentist will speak with you about any pain medications or antibiotics for recovery, but you should alert them if your discomfort gets worse or you experience severe pain, bleeding, or swelling or an uncomfortable bite.
Your new teeth will look and feel like real teeth and should be cared for as such. Daily brushing and flossing is sufficient and no special tools are needed. Also like you would with natural teeth, you should continue to see your dentist regularly to monitor your implant(s). Diligent at-home oral care will ensure your new teeth continue to function correctly and help prevent plaque and gum disease.
Risks and potential complications of dental implant surgery
Complications from dental implants are rare, but do exist. Risks of dental implant surgery include infection at the implant site, injury to teeth or other structures surrounding the implant site, nerve damage, or sinus problems. In most cases these complications are minor and easily treatable.
Occasionally your jawbone may fail to fuse to the implant. If this happens, your implant will be removed and the bone allowed to heal. You can try the implant again in about three months.
In addition to maintaining your oral health, you can protect your implants and prevent complications by avoiding chewing on ice and hard candies, which could damage your implants as well as using tobacco, which can increase your risk of infection or implant failure. You may also need to notify your dentist if you grind your teeth.
You Deserve to Love Your Smile!
Your missing or damaged teeth don’t need to be permanent. With dental implants, your smile will be fixed. Our practices offer a variety of options to create a new, natural smile that looks great, restores much of your chewing ability, and helps to prevent further bone loss.
As the largest provider of tooth implants in the U.S., we are on a mission to ensure our patients have access to the highest quality dental implants at an affordable price. Schedule an appointment with your local Affordable Dentures & Implants practice to determine the tooth replacement solutions that are right for you.