Dental implant surgery is a procedure that replaces tooth roots with metal, screw like posts and replaces damaged or missing teeth with artificial teeth that look and function much like real ones. Dental implant surgery can offer a welcome alternative to dentures or bridgework that doesn’t fit well.
Dental implants are surgically placed in your jawbone, where they serve as the roots of missing teeth. Because the titanium in the implants fuses with your jawbone, the implants won’t slip, make noise or cause bone damage the way that fixed bridgework or dentures might. And the materials can’t decay like your own teeth that support regular bridgework can.
How dental implant surgery is performed depends on the type of implant and the condition of your jawbone. Dental implant surgery may involve several procedures. The major benefit of implants is solid support for your new teeth — a process that requires the bone to heal tightly around the implant. Because this healing requires time, the process can take many months.
Dental implants may be an option for you if you:
- Have one or several missing teeth
- Have a jawbone that’s fully grown
- Have adequate bone to secure the implants or are able to have a bone graft
- Have healthy oral tissues
- Don’t have health conditions that will affect bone healing
- Are unable or unwilling to wear dentures
- Want to improve your speech
- Are willing to commit several months to the process
Like any surgery, dental implant surgery poses some health risks. Problems are rare, though, and when they do occur they’re usually minor and easily treated. Risks include:
- Infection at the implant site
- Injury or damage to surrounding structures, such as other teeth or blood vessels
- Nerve damage, which can cause pain, numbness or tingling in your natural teeth, gums, lips or chin
- Sinus problems, when dental implants placed in the upper jaw protrude into one of your sinus cavities
Because dental implants require one or more surgical procedures, you must have a thorough evaluation to prepare for the process, including a:
- Comprehensive dental exam. You may have dental X-rays taken and models made of your teeth and mouth.
- Treatment plan. Tailored to your situation, this plan takes into account factors such as how many teeth you need to have replaced and the condition of your jawbone. The planning process may involve a variety of dental specialists, including a doctor who specializes in conditions of the mouth, jaw and face (oral and maxillofacial surgeon), a dentist who works with the structures that support teeth (periodontist) and a dentist who will restore the implants with crowns, bridges or dentures.
Dental implant surgery is usually an outpatient surgery performed in stages:
- Your damaged tooth is removed.
- Your jawbone is prepared for surgery, a process that may involve bone grafting.
- After your jawbone heals, your oral surgeon places the dental implant metal post in your jawbone.
- You go through a healing period that may last several months.
- Your oral surgeon places the abutment, which is an extension of the implant metal post. (In some cases, when the implant is very stable, this can be done at the same time that the implant is placed.)
- After the soft tissue heals, your dentist will make molds of your teeth and jawbone and later place the final tooth or teeth.
Choosing your new artificial teeth
You and your dental specialist can choose artificial teeth that are either removable, fixed or a combination of both.
- Removable. This type is similar to a conventional removable denture. It contains artificial white teeth surrounded by pink plastic gum. It’s mounted on a metal frame that’s attached to the implant abutment, and it snaps securely into place. It can be easily removed for repair or daily cleaning.
- Fixed. In this type, an artificial tooth is permanently screwed or cemented onto an individual implant abutment. You can’t remove the tooth for cleaning or during sleep. If affordability isn’t a concern, you can opt to replace several missing teeth this way. Most of the time, each crown is attached to its own dental implant. However, because implants are exceptionally strong, several teeth can be replaced by one implant if they’re bridged together.
After the procedure
Whether you have dental implant surgery in one stage or multiple stages, you may experience some of the typical discomforts associated with any type of dental surgery, such as:
- Swelling of your gums and face
- Bruising of your skin and gums
- Pain at the implant site
- Minor bleeding
Most dental implants are successful. Sometimes, however, the bone fails to fuse sufficiently to the metal implant. Smoking, for example, can contribute to implant failure and complications.
If the bone fails to fuse sufficiently, the implant is removed, the bone is cleaned up, and you can try the procedure again in two or three months.