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 fixed bridgework or dentures might. And the materials can't decay like your own teeth that support regular bridgework can.
In general, dental implants may be right for you if you:
- Have one or more missing teeth
- Have a jawbone that's reached full growth
- 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.
- Infection at the implant site
- Injury or damage to surrounding structures, such as other teeth or blood vessel
- 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 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) and a dentist who works with the structures that support teeth (periodontist).
Tell your doctor about any medical conditions and any medications you take, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs and supplements. If you have certain heart conditions or orthopedic implants, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics before surgery to help prevent infection.
To control pain, anesthesia options during surgery include local anesthesia, sedation or general anesthesia. Talk to your dental specialist about which option is best for you. Your dental care team will instruct you about eating and drinking before surgery, depending on what type of anesthesia you have. If you’re having general anesthesia, plan to have someone take you home after surgery and expect to rest for the remainder of the day.
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 — an extension of the implant metal post — followed by your new artificial tooth (crown).
The entire process can take many months from start to finish — three to nine months and sometimes longer. Much of that time is devoted to healing and waiting for the growth of new bone in your jaw.
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 a month or two.
You can help your dental work — and remaining natural teeth — last longer if you:
- Practice excellent oral hygiene. Just as with your natural teeth, you must keep implants, artificial teeth and gum tissue clean. Specially designed brushes, such as an interdental brush that slides between teeth, can help clean the nooks and crannies around teeth, gums and metal posts.
- See your dentist regularly. Schedule dental checkups every six months to one year to ensure the health and proper functioning of your implants.
- Avoid damaging habits. Don’t chew hard items, such as ice and hard candy, which can break your crowns — or your natural teeth. Avoid tooth-staining tobacco and caffeine products. Get treatment if you grind your teeth.