• Dental Implants

    Dental implants are a beneficial option for people ranging in age from young adult to elderly. Having only come about just over 40 years ago, dental implants have been changing the way dentists can provide treatment for their patients.

    Whether you’re already well acquainted with them or find yourself researching what exactly is an implant, we’re going to be exploring just that question—what dental implants are, why you might need them, the surgical process, and how to prevent tooth loss.

What Are Dental Implants?

Even though modern day implants were first devised just 44 short years ago, civilizations have been messing around with the concept of tooth replacement for thousands of years. The accidental discovery of modern observing the way bone healed around a small titanium cylinder, only to discover that they had actually become fused.

While they’ve stayed relatively close to the original design, modern dental implants are easy to customize, ensuring a perfect fit for each and every patient. Mimicking the features of an actual tooth, dental implants are artificial teeth that get secured either in or on the jawbone, to provide a sturdy base for the implant crown.

The Dental Implant Process

To give you a better idea of what you can expect, below, we’ve outlined the procedure from start to finish.

The Initial Visit and Evaluation

When your dentist determines that you’re an ideal candidate for implants, the first step in the process is a thorough evaluation. During this stage, your dentist will remove the teeth that need to be replaced or recommend bone grafting if they’ve been missing for a prolonged period of time. X-rays and molds of the mouth may also be taken to ensure your dentist has a detailed view of the situation.

When a tooth is missing, bone loss accelerates at double the normal rate, meaning it’s crucial to you stay on top of your dental health. If left untreated, the process may require extra steps, a larger investment, and could potentially limit your implant options.

Early placement of an artificial tooth can greatly reduce the cost and time it takes for the process to be completed. Once your dentist has determined the best course of action, they will go over the process with you in detail so you know exactly what to expect.

1. Bone Grafting

Because your jaw bone will serve as the base of the artificial tooth, if it’s not large enough or too soft, bone grafting may be required before implants can be put in. While it may not seem like that big of a deal, most people don’t realize the amount of force that’s placed on the jaw during everyday life. The simple act of chewing exposes your jaw bone to a tremendous amount of pressure, which, if not supportive enough, can lead to a failed dental implant.

Bone grafting is used to create a solid base and is typically done with artificial bone. Depending on the condition of your jaw bone, the grafting process can be done during phase one (covered below) or require several months of healing as a separate step.

2. Preparing for Surgery

While getting dental implants is still considered surgery, you should have peace of mind in knowing it’s one of the most widely practiced and safest procedures in oral surgery. Depending on the kind and number of implants you need, pre-operative instructions can vary, but usually not by much.

To get your mouth prepped for surgery, generally, you’ll be asked to use a special mouthwash that acts by killing any bacteria that can lead to a potential infection. If you’re at a higher risk of infection, your dentist may even prescribe you a small round of antibiotics as a preventative measure.

When you meet with your team to plan the actual surgery, you’ll also be given the option of just receiving local anesthetic or potentially even conscious sedation depending on your level of comfort. Should you opt for sedation, as with any surgery, be sure to follow your dentist’s specific instructions and have a friend or family member that can drive you home once the procedure has been completed.

3. Day of the Surgery (Phase 1)

The process of getting dental implants is typically done in two different stages so your mouth has time to heal and adapt. Depending on the number of implants needed, the process from start to finish can take anywhere from a few months all the way up to nine months.

Unless you opt for conscious sedation, the procedure will start by a thorough numbing of the mouth with a local anesthetic to greatly reduce any discomfort. Once complete, an incision is made along the gum to reveal the bone underneath.

A specialized drill is then used to make a small hole in the bone, creating space for the titanium screw that will house the artificial tooth in phase two. After a hole is made, the implant is screwed into the jawbone itself either with a hand tool or drill, ensuring a secure fit.

Since each patient’s situation is unique, your surgeon may either choose to attach the abutment (the piece the crown will directly connect to) while securing the implant screw or as a secondary step once bone has begun fusing to the titanium.

Generally, this will be done as a secondary step to reduce the chances of applying accidental pressure to the incision site. If the implant is done at the front of the mouth, your dentist may give you a temporary bridge to protect the incision site and allow it time to heal.

Your surgeon will then stitch the gumline back together, effectively covering the site of the implant so it has time to heal (generally 3-6 months). During this time, new bone will actually begin to fuse with the titanium implant, helping to secure it in place firmly.

It’s important that you strictly follow any recommendations made by your dentist so as to not disturb the incision site and potentially prolong recovery. Once the implant has been given enough time to heal and properly fuse with the surrounding bone, you’re ready for phase two.

To ensure the artificial tooth blends in with the rest, your dentist may choose to take more impressions so they can make the crown as realistic as possible. At this stage of the process, your dentist will also check to make sure the implant has properly fused with the bone.

Once complete, the new crown will be secured to the abutment and your dental implants are finalized, completing the process.

4. What You Can Expect After Surgery

As with just about any surgery, there are going to be some noticeable side effects. Some of the most common symptoms that patients experience are that of soreness, swelling, bruising of the skin or gums, and even some bleeding.

After phase one is complete, your dentist will recommend that you be extra careful around the implant site and adopt a more thorough hygiene routine than usual to reduce the risk of infection. In fact, it’s not uncommon to receive a prescription for antibiotics as well as a specialized mouthwash that will help to speed up the recovery process.

Pain and swelling are also completely normal and should lessen with each passing day along with the help of OTC pain medication and frequent ice packs to the tender area. Should you notice a worsening pain or increased swelling after a few days, you should let your dentist know right away in case an infection has occurred.

Lastly, and what you’re probably most concerned with, is dietary habits following implant surgery. While it’s recommended that you stick to relatively soft foods directly following the surgery, most patients are free to resume their normal dietary habits within a few days.

So long as you pay extra attention to the implant site and maintain good dental hygiene, your recovery process will end up going faster than you think!

Why You Might Need Dental Implants

Even though implants are only needed when you’ve lost a tooth, there are numerous causes that can put your pearly whites at a higher risk. Of course, you may be thinking, what if I choose not to get implants? As simple as that may sound, if open space from a missing tooth is not filled in a timely manner, there are multiple complications that can ultimately affect the rest of your mouth.

We believe strongly in helping folks understand their dental needs, which is why we explore some of the common reasons people lose teeth, why it’s important to replace a missing tooth, and some preventative steps you can take to help prevent a tooth or teeth from needing to be extracted.

1. An Untreated Cavity

Believe it or not, a study done by the CDC found that 91% of US adults have had a cavity at some point in their lives. As common as this problem is, when not taken care of right away, a cavity can develop into something far worse.

Caused by bacteria in your mouth that slowly eats away at the hard, protective surfaces of your teeth, cavities are one of the most common dental health problems in the world. Even though they can usually be treated with ease by a dentist when caught early enough, cavities have the potential to cause permanent tooth loss when ignored.

When bacteria is allowed to continue eating away at the tooth, eventually, it will begin to cause root decay, ultimately leaving your dentist no option but to extract the tooth before more damage occurs. Luckily, cavities generally exhibit some noticeable symptoms before progressing to the stage of root decay.

If you find yourself experiencing abnormal tooth sensitivity, a persistent ache, or any kind of discoloration that doesn’t seem to go away, it’s a good idea to give your dentist a visit to make sure things don’t get any worse.

2. Gum Disease

Another common culprit of tooth loss is the widespread problem of gum disease, affecting nearly 50% of all US adults at one point or another. Unlike with cavities, gum disease is caused when bacteria infect the gumline. Plaque that’s allowed to build up on the teeth due to poor dental hygiene habits can eventually lead to the formation of tartar between and along the gumline.

Starting as gingivitis, when left untreated for a prolonged period of time, the infection can progress to a more advanced stage called periodontal disease (gum disease). With gum disease, as bacteria proliferates deeper, it can eventually lead to the formation of pockets between the gum and bone, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.

Even though your body’s immune system will try hard to fight off the infection, the buildup of toxins and poisons under the gumline eventually start to destroy the bone itself and surrounding tissue. Once this happens, the tooth is no longer anchored in place and eventually leads to tooth loss.

3. Accidental Damage

While the last two reasons we just talked about can be prevented with good dental hygiene habits, sometimes, tooth loss can occur as the result of accidental damage. Though more common in children that regularly engage in physical activities, tooth damage can happen to anyone.

Whether it’s blunt force trauma that causes a tooth to be completely knocked out of place or a hard impact that causes a crack or severe chip, accidental tooth damage is more common than you may think.

Sometimes, if the damage is minor enough, a dentist may be able to salvage it and perform cosmetic work to restore it to its former glory. However, in more severe cases, there may be nothing that your dentist can do aside from removing the tooth to prevent any further complications from occurring.

Tooth Loss Complications

Once you’ve lost a tooth, surely the worst has already happened, right? Unfortunately, just as putting off the proper treatment of oral health problems can lead to more severe complications, so too can postponing the installation of an implant once you’ve lost a tooth.

Think of your mouth like an ecosystem. When you take away a tooth and leave a gap in your gumline, the surrounding teeth can become negatively affected over time. At first, the teeth immediately adjacent to the missing tooth will begin to shift inward toward the gap, attempting to fill the space. As the adjacent teeth begin shifting, so too will their neighbors, causing an eventual chain reaction that can misalign your bite (the way your teeth fit together).

To make matters worse, the tooth that used to align with its now missing partner will be looking for another one to make contact with. In order to do that, the opposing tooth will begin growing toward the gap, eventually using the gum as the surrogate, leading to persistent discomfort.

Lastly, your jaw bone will also suffer as a result of tooth loss that’s left untreated for a prolonged period of time. Believe it or not, the simple acts of chewing and letting your teeth rest in a neutral position provide your jaw bone with enough stimulation to prevent a process known as resorption.

When missing a tooth, there’s no longer enough stimulation being applied to the underlying bone to prevent resorption. During this process, the jaw bone will actually begin shrinking in size. If allowed to go on long enough, there may not be enough bone mass left for traditional implants, leaving your options limited.

How to Prevent Tooth Loss

If you haven’t guessed it already, the best defense against tooth loss is a thorough cleaning routine and regular visits to the dentist. Staying on top of your brushing and flossing routine is typically enough to keep both of these causes at bay. Once you have your home-based routine in check, the other piece of the puzzle involves going to the dentist for regular checkups and whenever you notice something out of the ordinary.

When you notice a problem, rather than putting it off and hoping it goes away on its own, a simple visit to your dentist can help identify the root of the issue and resolve it before things get worse.