A dental implant is essentially a titanium screw that’s surgically positioned into the jawbone, allowing dentists to mount a replacement tooth into that area. Unlike a denture, it won’t come loose. It doesn’t need to be anchored to other teeth, like bridges are, either.
If you’ve ever lost a tooth, especially at the front of your mouth, you’ll know how humiliating it can be. (This author speaks from personal experience, having knocked out her front teeth after falling off a wall when she was fourteen.) A dental implant looks and feels like a normal tooth, but its benefits go far beyond aesthetics. It makes it easier to eat (hello, steak) and to speak (goodbye, lisp).
If you do decide to opt for an implant, you can’t be one of those people that fall into bed without brushing their teeth. You need to floss daily and brush your teeth at least twice a day. You also need to visit your dentist every six months for a check-up.
While the primary function of a dental implant is for tooth replacement, it can also help other dental procedures. For example, an implant may be used to support a removable denture and make it more secure and comfortable. Mini-implants often act as temporary anchorage devices (TAD) to help position teeth during orthodontic procedures.
Now, let’s talk about the procedure. You need to have healthy gums and adequate bone to support the implant. If your jaw isn’t healthy enough, you may need a bone graft. Your surgeon will probably use a special bone grafting material to graft on to your jaw bone. It will take several months for the graft to create strong, healthy bone to stabilize your implant. (Don’t worry, you’ll be given stand-ins so you don’t have to spend those months as a toothless wonder.) If you need only a very minor graft, the procedure might be done at the same time as your implant surgery.
There are essentially two types of implants.
Endosteal implantsare the most common. They’re also known as root-form implants and are surgically placed directly into your jaw bone. They tend to look like small screws, but some of them might look like cylinders or plates. For an endosteal implant to be successful, your bone needs to be deep enough and wide enough to provide a solid foundation. It will take a while for your surrounding gum tissue to heal. Once it does, you will probably require a second surgery to connect a post to the original implant. Finally, your artificial tooth (or teeth) will be attached to the post – either individually or grouped on a bridge.
Subperiosteal implants consist of a metal frame that’s fitted on to the jawbone under the gum tissue. As your gums heal, the frame becomes fixed to your jawbone. Posts are attached to the frame and will protrude through the gums. Once your mouth has healed, artificial teeth will be mounted on the posts.
It sounds painful but it won’t be. You’ll be given a local anesthetic and so, you’ll feel absolutely zero pain during the procedure. Afterwards, you may experience some post-surgery discomfort – just how much varies from person to person. Your dental surgeon will place a cold ice pack over the area of surgery immediately after treatment to reduce swelling. He or she may also recommend basic over-the-counter pain medication. If your surgery is more invasive than most, you’ll probably just be given a stronger prescription pain medication. You’ll also need more recovery time. Apart from managing the pain, your dentist may ask you to use certain antibiotics and oral rinses to support healing and prevent infection.
Dental implant surgery is not usually risky but adequate aftercare is required to keep it that way. There is a condition known as “peri-implantitis” which refers to the inflammation of the gum and bone surrounding the implant. It can result in the loss of an implant if left untreated. Your dentist will make sure that won’t happen, but it’s up to you to visit him or her regularly. If you do, and maintain your implants properly, you’ll have nothing to fear. It’s time to get used to smiling again.