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!