A dental implant is a metal post placed in your jawbone to replace the root of an extracted tooth. A crown is placed on an extension of this post to replace the visible part of the tooth.
Implants take several months to complete because your jawbone needs to heal after each procedure. In some cases you may need your jawbone to be built up again – bone density falls after a tooth is removed.
The implant posts are made from titanium that allows your jawbone to fuse with it, so the implant doesn’t move or cause soft tissue and bone damage like many dentures and bridges can.
Implants may be for you if you have one or more missing teeth, you’re an adult so your jawbone is fully-grown, your bone is healthy or you are suitable for a bone graft, and if your soft tissues are healthy. You’ll also need to be free of any conditions that would impair bone healing and you’ll need to be committed to the process.
All surgery carries risks and implants can cause problems, however, these problems are usually minor and resolvable, like surgery-site infections or damage to blood vessels or adjacent teeth. There’s also the possibility of nerve damage or sinus problems (in upper jaw implants).
You’ll see a specialist dentist who will perform a thorough dental examination, including x-rays and models.
You’ll then need a treatment plan, including looking at the number of teeth you want to replace, the condition of your jawbone and whether you need a graft, and the condition of your soft tissues and gums.
You need to give a full medical history, including current conditions and medications and you will probably need antibiotics before surgery.
Your surgeon should also discuss the best type of anaesthesia for you.
Dental implants involve several stages.
The tooth is removed and the jawbone prepared for surgery. If the tooth was removed a while back you may need a bone graft. Once the jawbone is healed, the surgeon places the post in it. Then the abutment (the visible post) is put into place, followed by the crown. Both healing periods take several months, and you can expect the process to last from six to nine months.
A small portion of bone is harvested from another area of your upper or lower jaw to create a firm foundation for the post. You need this because chewing exerts a lot of force and if the bone is too weak to support the post, the implant will fail.
You will experience discomfort after surgery. You can expect swelling of your face and gums, as well as bruising, slight bleeding and pain at the implant site. If swelling or pain worsens in the first few days, you need to contact your surgeon as you may need antibiotics.
You should eat soft foods for 10-14 days to allow your surgery sites to heal. Most surgeons use dissolving stitches, but some don’t, so you’ll need to return to have them removed.
Most implants are successful, but occasionally they fail to fuse – often this is down to smoking, which interferes with bone healing. When this happens, the implant is removed, the bone is tidied up and another attempt is made in a few months.