Flashing a beautiful smile can make you feel more confident and self-assured. Your smile is often one of the first things others notice. When you have missing or severely damaged teeth, it can leave you feeling self-conscious, and you may not smile as often or openly. Gaps in your teeth can also keep you from eating or speaking as normally and comfortably as you once did. That is where dental implants can help.
Dental implants have become a popular tooth replacement option with onlookers unable to tell that some of your teeth are not natural because they blend so well. Yet if you have never had this type of dental work done, you may be wondering what dental implants are all about and whether they are a good option for you. Here is an in-depth guide covering practically any question you might have about getting dental implants.
Dental Implants: The Basics
First, we will break down some of the basic questions you might have about dental implants in general. This is a good place to start if you are researching your options and trying to determine how to go about replacing missing teeth.
What Are Dental Implants?
In the simplest terms, dental implants replace the tooth root. They are small posts or screws typically made from titanium or zirconia. These materials are considered biocompatible because they fuse easily with existing jawbone to form a strong bond. In addition, allergies to these materials are incredibly rare, meaning that they are a good option for most people.
The post is inserted into a hole drilled into the bone or into the existing tooth socket. The fusion of the post and bone is called osseointegration. Once this has occurred, an abutment is placed on top. This is a small connector that attaches the replacement tooth or crown to the implant. Many people refer to the entire structure – post, abutment, and crown – as a dental implant, though technically, it only refers to the post.
How Do Dental Implants Compare to Other Tooth Replacement Options?
How you treat missing teeth often depends on the location and number of teeth missing. Some options include:
- Partial Dentures
- Implant-Retained Dentures
- All-On-4 Dental Implants
- Dental Implants
What makes dental implants different than bridges or dentures is that they are not removable. The implant is physically fused to the jawbone and becomes part of the mouth. Once a replacement tooth or dental prosthetic is attached, it remains in place and is treated just like a natural tooth. It is not removable (except by a dental professional). Most notably, implants are incredibly strong and durable.
Traditional dentures and bridges, on the other hand, are removable. You take them out yourself for daily cleaning or to sleep. They may be held in place by clipping onto attachments in the mouth or by using an adhesive. Dentures must be periodically refitted as your gums shrink or the bone resorbs.
What Happens If Missing Teeth Are Not Replaced?
When gaps in your teeth are left unfilled, they can contribute to numerous oral health issues. The extra space leaves room for the remaining teeth to begin shifting out of place. This can result in a crooked smile or uneven teeth. You may require orthodontic care such as braces or Invisalign® to correctly reposition teeth, which can be costly and time-consuming.
In addition, without the natural tooth root – or the artificial one provided by a dental implant – there is nothing to stimulate the jaw bone, which can lead to bone loss. Slowly the bone begins to resorb and weaken. If too much bone is lost, it can jeopardize the remaining teeth and affect your facial structure.
What Are Some Advantages Of Dental Implants?
Replacing missing teeth is recommended in most situations. As such, opting for dental implants can have numerous benefits:
- They hold existing teeth in place and prevent shifting.
- They can help prevent bone loss by stimulating the jaw.
- They can last a lifetime if cared for properly.
- They can be more comfortable than removable prosthetics such as dentures.
- They do not slip out of place.
- They can restore the ability to eat and speak more normally.
- They can preserve facial structure.
- They can enable you to feel more confident in your appearance.
What Are Some Disadvantages Of Dental Implants?
As with nearly any dental procedure, there are both advantages and disadvantages to getting dental implants. While many people find implants to be a good option for them, it is important to weigh the disadvantages when making your decision as well. You want to make sure you are fully informed.
Here are a few potential drawbacks to consider:
- Dental implants require surgery, and with any surgery, there is some level of risk. Talk to your doctor about possible complications, especially given your own medical history and current health.
- Dental implants can be expensive depending on the number, location, and complexity of surgery. Dental insurance does not typically provide full coverage for implants, but your doctor may be able to work out financing or a payment plan to make them more affordable.
- Dental implants take several months to fully heal and fuse with the bone. You will have to be cautious about what you eat while you have a temporary crown. It may be three or four months until your permanent crown or dental prosthetic is attached.
- Dental implants can fail, though the risk for this is very low. If it fails, you will need to have the implant removed and select another option for tooth replacement.
What Is The Success Rate For Implants?
Overall, dental implants tend to be highly successful when properly placed and cared for. They typically have between a 95% and 98% success rate, making them an effective option for tooth replacement.
Are Dental Implants Safe?
Dental implants have been safely used for many years. They are made of titanium, a biocompatible material that is non-toxic, will not corrode, and fuses easily with existing bone. Any complications that occur are often minor and easily treated, such as an infection at the implant site. Taking antibiotics after surgery and keeping the surgical site clean can help reduce the risk of infection.
Am I A Good Candidate For Dental Implants?
One of the benefits of dental implants is that many patients are a good fit for the procedure. Challenges such as gingivitis or low bone density can be treated before surgery to minimize risks. Some common factors doctors look for when consulting for dental implants include:
- You are in generally good overall health.
- Any underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure are well managed.
- You are not a smoker or are open to quitting for the procedure. Smoking can interfere with the healing process.
- You have missing teeth that you are ready to address.
- You are unhappy with the way your dentures or other dental prosthetic fits and are looking for another option.
- You understand the recovery process and can adhere to post-surgical instructions.
Will Anyone Be Able To Tell That I Have A Dental Implant?
The actual dental implant sits below your gum line, so it is not visible. The abutment that fits on top is what you may be able to see sticking up after surgery. However, this is simply a connector that is used to attach a temporary or permanent tooth to the dental implant. With the new tooth in place, you should not be able to see any part of the implant.
Replacement teeth are designed to blend in with and function just like your natural teeth. Unless you tell someone that you have a dental implant, they should not be able to tell just by looking at your smile.
Finding a Doctor
You do not want to trust just anyone with your oral health. You want to find a doctor who is board-certified and experienced in conducting dental implant surgery. In addition to asking questions about the procedure, here are examples of questions to ask about the doctor as well.
Are You Board Certified?
Board certification demonstrates that your doctor meets high standards for safety, practice, and patient care. To earn this designation, they must pass rigorous written and oral exams and engage in continuing education. They also complete advanced training beyond what is required for standard licensure.
Board certification is voluntary, but it shows your doctor’s commitment to their practice and their patients. It shows that they care about what they do and ensuring your safety. Continuing education and training help them to stay abreast of the latest techniques, technologies, and best practices.
What Is Your Education And Training Background?
Learn more about where your doctor went to school and completed their training. Did they specialize in any areas? Did they do any additional fellowships or subspecialties? Have they gone through any advanced training specific to dental implant surgery? Make sure you are comfortable with your doctor’s level of training and experience.
How Often Do You Perform Dental Implant Surgery?
Experience is important. Are dental implants a procedure that the doctor does quite often in his or her practice? Or is it something that is done less frequently? Do not be afraid to ask how many dental implant surgeries they have performed or how many they do each month. You want it to be a surgery that is very familiar to them and know that they are prepared for anything.
How Much Will Surgery Cost?
No two doctors are exactly the same. The cost of surgery can vary based on many factors:
- The doctor’s level of training and experience
- Where surgery is performed
- The complexity of the surgery
- How many implants are needed
- The location of the implants
- The type of implants used
- Fees for anesthesiology
- If any additional procedures are necessary
- Any insurance coverage
Once you have consulted with your doctor, they can create a personalized treatment plan aligned with your needs and goals. At this point, they will be able to provide you with a better estimate of cost based on the specifics of your surgery.
Do You Accept My Insurance?
Typically, dental implants are not fully covered by insurance, but it all depends on your plan and even the reason for the implants. Your doctor can let you know if they work with your insurance provider and what may be covered. Even if insurance does not cover your dental implants, many doctors offer payment plans and other financial options to make surgery more affordable. See how they can work with you and your budget to provide the care you need.
Do You Have Before And After Photos That I Can See?
Get a better idea of what your dental implants will look like – and the experience level of your doctor – by asking to see pictures from real-life patients. This can give you a realistic sense of what to expect and what is possible. You can find others who have a similar situation to your own, and see what they achieved with implants.
Do You Have Any Testimonials I Can Read?
In addition to doing your own research, ask for testimonials or referrals from other patients. Find out what they thought of their overall experience, the doctor, the surgery, and their decision to receive dental implants. See if you can read through some of the reviews online.
Preparing for Your Consultation
As you continue thinking about dental implants, keep a running list of questions that pop into your mind. Even if you think the question seems obvious or unimportant, ask anyway to give yourself peace of mind.
How Do You Prepare For The Procedure?
Understand the process your doctor goes through when planning for your dental implant surgery. Even if they have your dental records, they will likely want to perform a thorough oral exam themselves to see exactly what the site looks like and if there are any potential concerns. You may be asked about not just your dental history, but your medical history as well so the doctor knows if there are any conditions they need to plan for in order to keep you as safe as possible.
They will also take some scans and images of their own to visualize the area and determine exactly where to place the dental implants and whether there is enough bone to support them. Technology has come a long way in assisting with oral surgery planning and execution.
How Can I Better Prepare For Surgery?
Find out whether there is anything you can do to be more prepared. This could include things such as quitting smoking, starting or stopping certain medications, or ensuring that you have a responsible adult available to drive you home from surgery. If you will need to take a few days off of work for recovery, plan for that in advance, so you are able to relax and are not focused on what is happening at your job.
You may also be asked to remove any jewelry or nail polish before surgery and to wear a short-sleeved shirt to make administering anesthesia easier. Many doctors provide a pre-op checklist, so review that while you are in the office so you can ask for any clarifications.
How Long Until My Surgery Is Scheduled?
Know how long you have to get ready. Will your surgery be next week or next month? What can you do in the meantime to help things go as smoothly as possible? Work with your doctor to find a date that fits with your schedule (and theirs), so you know you have time off and support from others to focus on your recovery.
Will I Need Additional Procedures?
Based on the evaluation, you may need to have some work done prior to receiving your dental implants. For instance, if you have gum disease, you will want to clear that up first, so you reduce the chances of bacteria collecting around your implant. In some cases, you may be getting a tooth extracted at the same time so you can get immediate implant placement. This occurs when the implant is placed directly into the empty tooth socket left by the extraction. The doctor does not have to create a hole for the dental implant because they can take advantage of the one already there as well as the natural healing properties it provides.
You may also need a follow-up procedure after the implant has healed if the post was covered by the gums. In some cases, the doctor may leave the post sticking up through the gums, and a temporary cap or crown may be attached. Other times, they may cover the implant over with your gums and then expose it after osseointegration has occurred and your permanent crown is ready to be affixed.
Can I Get Dental Implants If I Already Have Dentures?
If you already have dentures, you may be curious as to how dental implants can play into that. Dental implants can be used as a way to support dentures and provide additional stability. Traditional dentures fit over the gums, but over time, the gums begin to shrink due to lack of stimulation and missing tooth roots. This can decrease how snugly your dentures fit and cause them to shift as you talk or eat. They may also become uncomfortable and need to be refitted.
Dental implants can be inserted into your jawbone, and then new implant-supported dentures can be attached. They snap right to the implants and are held securely in place. You do not need to remove them for daily cleaning or when you sleep. Instead, you brush and care for them just like you would natural teeth. Another advantage is that implant-supported dentures, like All-on-4 dental implants, do not cover the roof of your mouth, which many patients find more comfortable and natural.
How Long Does The Entire Dental Implant Process Take?
This is certainly something that you will want to discuss with your doctor because it varies from one person to the next. The overall timeline depends on how much work you need to be done and how quickly healing occurs. If you need to have teeth extracted and immediate placement of a dental implant is not an option, the doctor will have to wait until the site has healed and the socket has filled in with new bone growth before inserting a dental implant.
Similarly, if you do not have enough bone mass or density to adequately support a dental implant, you may need a bone graft. It can take several weeks for the graft to integrate and build up new bone. Your doctor will want to ensure the jaw is strong and stable before moving forward with implant surgery.
Once the dental implants are in place, it can take three to four months until the bone has fused with the implant. At this point, it is strong enough for your replacement teeth to be attached and for you to return to a normal diet, but it can take a few more weeks for the process to be complete.
The entire process of getting dental implants can take several months, so make sure you know what to expect and are prepared. They can be a long-lasting solution for missing teeth, but you must be patient and allow adequate time for healing.
Are My Expectations Realistic?
Discuss your goals and objectives for getting dental implants with your doctor. Be open and honest, so they can determine if what you want to achieve is something that is realistically obtainable. Make sure that you are on the same page and understand the capabilities and limitations of dental implants.
Dental Implant Surgery
Before you undergo dental implant surgery, it is helpful to know what to expect. This can ease your mind and allow you to feel more relaxed and confident before the procedure.
What Happens During Dental Implant Surgery?
Before surgery, the doctor will use all of the images and scans to develop a plan for exactly where to place the implant. They will take into consideration the placement of existing teeth or how the dental prosthetic will fit to create a natural-looking smile.
On the day of surgery, you will be given either a local anesthetic or put under general anesthesia to keep you comfortable and minimize any pain. Once you are settled, the doctor will extract the damaged or broken tooth if necessary and prepare the site for the implant. They may perform any bone grafting in advance or at the same time.
If you are not getting an immediate implant placement, the doctor will drill a small hole in the bone and insert the titanium implant. They will make sure that it is properly positioned before closing the site. If the implant remains below the gums, the doctor may use a stitch or two to close the incision. Dissolvable sutures are commonly used, so they do not need to be removed. The doctor may also opt to leave the implant exposed and put an abutment on top. This is the small metal piece you will see sticking up through your gums.
The area may also be packed with a small amount of gauze to help control any bleeding. If you are under general anesthesia, the sedation will be stopped, and you will be monitored until you are fully awake and alert. Once you are stable, the doctor will release you to a responsible adult.
How Long Does Surgery Take?
If you are not getting any other procedures done, such as tooth extraction or bone grafting, it usually takes between one and two hours to place one implant. If you are getting multiple implants, it will take longer.
Is Surgery Painful?
Your doctor will use sedation or anesthesia to keep you as comfortable as possible and manage any pain. During surgery, you may feel a little pressure if a local anesthetic is used but should not feel pain. You should not feel anything if you are fully sedated.
After surgery, you can use ice packs and over-the-counter pain relievers to manage any swelling or minor discomfort. Your doctor may give you a prescription pain reliever for the first day or two.
What Are The Potential Risks Or Complications From Surgery?
Every surgery, whether minor or major, comes with risks. The benefits typically outweigh these risks. However, it is still a good idea to know all the facts and what to expect. Ask about warning signs, what to look for, and when to contact your doctor. Many complications are relatively minor and can be treated:
- Damage to nearby teeth
- Numbness or tingling around the implant site or in the lips or chin due to nerve damage
- Sinus issues from implants in the top arch
Dental Implant Post-Surgery Recovery
After surgery, you will want to ensure that you understand what to expect when it comes to recovery so you can support the success of the implants.
Will I Need To Stay Overnight At The Hospital?
No, you will not be hospitalized. All treatment is performed on an outpatient basis at our office.
Can I Drive Myself Home?
If you receive anything more than a local anesthetic, you will not be allowed to drive yourself home. Anesthesia can impair your reflexes and judgment, making it unsafe for you to drive. Arrange to have a responsible adult drive you home, such as a family member or friend. You may also want to have them stay to help out for a few hours until you are feeling more alert and awake.
How Do I Manage Any Pain After Surgery?
It is normal to have some swelling and discomfort after surgery. Knowing how to effectively manage this pain and when you should contact your doctor is important. Many patients find that over-the-counter pain relievers are adequate to keep them comfortable. This can also help to alleviate minor swelling. You can apply an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel to your cheek for the first day or two after surgery too. If needed, the doctor may prescribe pain medication.
Some residual bleeding is normal as well for the first two or three days. The doctor will place gauze over the incision to reduce any bleeding, and you can gently bite down on it as necessary. Using a moistened tea bag can help as well because the tannins in the tea help constrict the blood vessels. Let your doctor know if you still have bleeding after three days or pain after the first week.
How Long Will I Need To Take Off Of Work?
Resting and giving your body time to heal after surgery is essential. While you likely will not need to take a week off, a day or two is recommended. This gives the anesthesia plenty of time to wear off and any swelling, bleeding, or discomfort time to subside. At this point, you will also be able to remove the gauze so you can speak more clearly and comfortably.
You may want to have someone stay with you for the first day to help out around the house, watch young children, and get you anything you may need. You do not want to put too much strain on your body right after surgery.
What Can I Eat After Dental Implant Surgery?
Your jaw and gums will be sore after getting dental implants. It will take some time before you can return to your normal diet. The implants need time to fuse with the bone before you put any pressure on them. Eating foods that are too hard, sticky, or crunchy can interfere with the healing process.
It takes about three months for osseointegration to be complete and your permanent replacement teeth to be attached. Immediately after surgery, a liquid or very soft diet is recommended. Stick with broths, yogurt, pudding, Jell-O, or pureed foods. These will be gentle on your mouth and go down easily because they do not require chewing.
After the first several days, you can begin incorporating other soft foods into your diet. This could include things such as well-cooked pasta or steamed vegetables, scrambled eggs, or oatmeal. Be cautious about the temperature of the foods you eat. If they are too hot or too cold, they may cause discomfort. Also, avoid drinking from a straw as the suction can dislodge the blood clot that has formed over the incision.
You will want to maintain a relatively soft diet for the next twelve weeks or so until your implants are fully incorporated into your jaw bone and are stable. Your doctor will give you a more detailed timeline with their recommendations of what foods to eat and when.
Will There Be Any Limitations After Surgery?
Even if you are feeling great after a day or two, your doctor will still want you to take it easy. Knowing your limitations can allow you to plan your schedule accordingly. Too much bending or straining right after surgery can trigger bleeding or swelling.
Plan to take at least a week or two off from any moderate to heavy exercise. Light exercises such as walking, jogging, biking, or yoga can often be resumed after a few days. Anything more rigorous such as tennis, basketball, or wrestling should wait until your doctor gives you the all-clear. Listen to your body, and do not push yourself too much.
How Do I Care For The Surgical Site?
Proper care and hygiene are critical for reducing the risk of infection or other complications. Leave the gauze in place for the first day, changing it out as needed. You want to be careful not to disturb any clotting and cause more bleeding.
After the first 24 hours, you can return to brushing the rest of your teeth as you normally would, avoiding the dental implant site. Swishing a warm salt water mixture every few hours can help with bleeding and preventing infection. Your doctor may also give you a special solution to rinse your mouth out. You should not use regular mouthwash until your doctor gives you the okay.
How Do I Care For A Temporary Crown?
After surgery, your gums may be sutured over the dental implant, or it may be sticking up with the abutment attached. If the abutment is exposed, the doctor can give you a temporary crown or dental prosthetic either immediately or within a few days. However, it is critical to remember that the dental implant has not fused with the bone yet.
The temporary crown is more for aesthetic purposes as opposed to function. Even though the gap is filled, you do not want to put unnecessary pressure on the site from biting or chewing. That is why continuing to eat a softer diet is encouraged. If you disturb the implant, it can slow down recovery time and increase the risk of it not fusing correctly.
When Will My Permanent Teeth Be Attached?
It can take three to four months for osseointegration to be complete and a strong foundation for the new tooth to form. It is important that the site be stable and have enough bone density to support the force of biting and chewing. Once the doctor has checked that the implants have properly healed and fused, then you can move forward with restoration and have your permanent teeth attached.
How Do I Care For My Dental Implants?
Your dental implant functions just like a natural tooth once the crown or prosthetic has been affixed. You will want to brush and floss daily and schedule regular checkups with your dentist. Dental implants are permanently embedded into your jaw, so you do not need to worry about having them slip out of place. Your implant-supported dentures, All-On-4 dental implants, or individual crowns do not need to be removed for cleaning or sleeping either.
You can go about your normal activities, and your new teeth will blend right in. No one should even know you have them unless you choose to share this information. They remain securely in place, allowing you to eat what you want and speak normally.
Will My Dental Implants Need To Be Replaced?
Assuming that your dental implants fused properly and there were no major complications, they should not need to be replaced. They are designed to last for the rest of your lifetime. Because the titanium or zirconia used is biocompatible, it is accepted by your body and becomes part of your jawbone. These materials are incredibly durable and should not erode.
That being said, you may need to have any crowns or dental prosthetics replaced from time to time. They can become worn or damaged after years of daily use. Your doctor or dentist can remove the old tooth and attach a new one without having to replace the entire implant.
Replace Missing Teeth with a Long-Lasting Solution
If you are tired of dealing with missing teeth or are ready to replace uncomfortable dentures, talk to the doctors at Clagett Dental or a surgical specialist near you to learn more about whether dental implants are a beneficial option. Feel more confident in your smile and know that your replacement teeth are firmly in place so you can eat, drink, and speak more naturally and comfortably. The team at Clagett Dental looks forward to working with you to find solutions that fit your goals and lifestyle.