1. What Are Dental Implants?
Contrary to popular misconception, a dental implant is not a tooth, at least not the implant itself. A dental implant is a prosthetic device (similar to a prosthetic hand or limb) that is used to replace missing teeth. The physical implant is a small titanium post or fixture that is inserted into the jawbone in place of the missing tooth. After a healing period, a single cap (or crown), partial or full denture, or a fixed bridge can be attached. Once the implant fully heals and integrates with the bone in your jaw, something called an abutment is connected to the implant allowing for placement of the artificial tooth or teeth. Once the entire implant process is complete, there will be three parts to the dental implant; the dental implant fixture, the abutment, and the artificial tooth or teeth. Sometimes the abutment and crown are made as one piece. The implant fixture is surgically implanted into your jaw, and therefore it will not make noise, slip or cause bone damage as dentures can or damage adjacent teeth as bridgework often does.
2. How Common Are Dental Implants?
Because tooth loss is a prevalent issue nationwide, dental implant use has grown into common practice, and in many cases considered the standard of care to replace missing or damaged teeth This is especially true as people look to move away from some of the difficulties typically associated with wearing full or partial dentures. There are several reasons why dental implants are becoming more common, including reliability and appearance. If properly taken care of, dental implants can last for decades and typically last significantly longer than other dental restoration forms. Also, because dental implants are made to look like your natural teeth, they are often thought to be more visually appealing, when done correctly, than dentures or bridges.
3. Are Dental Implants Safe?
Although not everyone is familiar with dental implants, periodontists have been using them for many years. The first dental implant was placed in 1965, and the technology has continued to evolve ever since. Today, dental implants are considered one of the safest and reliable ways to replace missing teeth that cannot be fixed or saved by other means.
4. How Painful Is Getting A Dental Implant?
Each person feels pain or discomfort differently, so it can be challenging to pinpoint precisely how you will react to the procedure. Most people report getting their implant was less uncomfortable than they thought it would be. During the surgical portion of the procedure, you will receive an anesthetic, and therefore should experience little to no discomfort during the procedure. If you are careful to follow the periodontist’s postoperative directions and take any medication and antibiotics prescribed after the procedure, you should experience little discomfort and run little infection risk. Although your periodontist will likely prescribe some pain relief, many find that it is not necessary.
5. How Long Does the Dental Implant Procedure Take?
The timeline of the implant process is different for everyone. A few factors must be considered, including your current dental health, which tooth (or teeth) are being replaced, the number of teeth being replaced, and if you require extractions or bone regeneration before the implant fixture can be inserted. The dental implant process occurs in two phases, and depending on the above criteria, it can take anywhere from three to nine months in most cases. If you need to have one or more extractions, additional time must be added to the timeline to allow for healing after the initial removal procedure. Another factor to consider is whether you require bone grafts or other procedures before your periodontist can implant the dental implant fixture.
6. Am I A Good Candidate for Dental Implants?
The great part about dental implants is that they are very versatile. Almost anyone who is missing one, many, or all of their teeth can be a candidate for dental implants. Although dental implants are often a suitable option to replace missing teeth, they are not the proper alternative for every patient. In most cases, if you are not a candidate for dental implants, it likely relates to bone health. If you have suffered significant bone volume loss due to disease or long-term absence of a tooth or teeth, there may not be sufficient bone in your jaw to support the implant fixture properly. In some cases, the bone can be adequately restored through bone grafts, but this is not the case for everyone. Other considerations your periodontist may look for when considering implants are:
- whether your jawbone is fully grown
- whether you have good oral health.
- if you are unable (or unwilling) to wear dentures
- if you have a medical condition that limits bone healing
- that you do not smoke or are willing to quit
7. What Are the Advantages of Dental Implants?
As children, we are born with two sets of teeth (baby teeth and permanent or adult teeth). Over the years, we lose the baby teeth, and they are replaced with permanent teeth. When a single adult tooth or even several teeth are lost due to dental health issues, gum disease, or dental decay, implants can step in like the third set of teeth. There are many advantages to dental implants, such as improved appearance, increased confidence, and improved ability to eat the foods you love. Perhaps the two most significant benefits are that dental implants can last for the rest of the recipient’s life when cared for, and unlike natural teeth, they can never decay as they are made of titanium.
8. What Are the Disadvantages of Dental Implants?
As with any surgical procedure, there are minor risks involved with getting dental implants. First, as with any surgery in the mouth (or throughout the body), there is a risk of infection, inflammation, and pain. However, your periodontist will discuss how each of these can be managed in relation to your specific situation. It is important to note that any adverse effects of a dental implant procedure are relatively rare, and should they occur, they tend to be minor. Another disadvantage of dental implants relates to cost. If there is not enough bone for your periodontist to place the implant fixture, you may require a bone or gum grafting procedure, which could increase the overall cost of treatment. This could be a notable disadvantage depending on your dental benefits and anticipated out of pocket expenses.
9. What can I Eat After Having Dental Implants?
The surgical procedure for dental implants involves creating an opening into your gums for the fixture to be placed. It is essential to keep this area clean and free of food debris while it is healing to reduce the risk of infection. As with any extraction or surgical procedure in the mouth, you will need to drink liquids and consume soft foods for the first two days postoperatively. For example, you can drink milkshakes and smoothies (without fruit seeds) and eat anything soft such as yogurt, ice cream, mashed potato, pudding, and smooth soups. On the third day after your surgery, you can begin to include foods that do not require a lot of chewing, such as cooked noodles, soft sandwiches, eggs, or macaroni and cheese.
It is essential to avoid seeded, hard or crunchy foods like rice, popcorn, hamburgers, fresh berries, or pizza. You should also avoid spicy or acidic foods, as those can irritate your incision site. Most people can resume their regular diet within a few days to one week with minimal discomfort or difficulties.
10. If I Need Extractions, How Long Do I Need to Wait to Get an Implant?
The dental implant fixture requires a snug fit in your jawbone. Although your tooth or teeth may be missing, allowing space for the implanted tooth, you must have sufficient bone to hold the implants in place, or they will not heal properly. It is possible to have your implant fixture placed on the same day as your extractions in some cases. However, the more common approach requires allowing the bone a period of three to six months to heal after extraction before having dental implant surgery.
11. Is It Possible for My Mouth to Reject the Implant?
While it is possible for your body to reject an implant, it is a rare occurrence. Typically, the jaw readily accepts the implant fixture. When a situation arises where the implant is rejected, it is most often due to allergies to the titanium alloy that makes up the implant fixture. Another reason for implant failure is improper care of the implant after surgery. Dental implants can fall out or fail to heal correctly without adequate oral hygiene. Taking good care of your natural teeth and your implants will help prevent further gum decay and/or bone loss, and potential structure failure in the future.
12. How Long Will My Implants Take to Heal?
As previously mentioned, the implant process takes several steps, and therefore, you may require more than one “healing stage.” Because of this, the healing period varies with each individual. It will also vary depending on your overall health, the number of teeth you need replaced, and other factors. Generally, the healing process takes anywhere from six to twelve weeks.
13. What is the Success Rate of Dental Implants?
The success rate of implant surgery depends significantly on the individual and their health and habits. For healthy patients with good oral hygiene and good overall health, dental implants are successful, with a success rate ranging from 95 – 98.5%.
14. How Long Do Dental Implants Last?
Unlike your natural teeth, dental implants are not susceptible to oral health issues such as decay. However, dental implants will not protect your gums, and therefore it is vital to maintain proper oral health to ensure your implants last. Proper at-home care and regular professional cleaning and check-ups are essential for implant success. Each person is different, and implant success relies upon diagnosis, medical history, surgical experience, and various other factors.
15. Is It Possible to Get “Metal-Free” Implants?
Historically, almost all materials used in tooth repair and replacement have been some sort of metal ion. Implants made of titanium alloy have long been considered the gold standard in surgery due to their compatibility with natural body chemistry. However, due to potential evidence of allergic reactions, changing esthetic standards, and increased demand for metal-free constriction, the search for an alternative has been ongoing. Consequently, zirconium dioxide or Zirconia has become a popular alternative for those seeking a metal-free option.
16. Can Dentures Be Made into Implants?
In short, no. Dentures cannot be “made into implants.” The physical dental implant is a titanium screw that is surgically placed into the jawbone to help anchor and support artificial teeth. If you struggle with unstable dentures, it may be possible to have implants (without a tooth) placed under the existing denture to aid in stabilization and support. This is only an option if your current dentures are in excellent condition.
17. Can Implants Help if I Have Full or Partial Dentures?
People who wear full or partial dentures are frequent beneficiaries of dental implants. The dental implant can help to provide added support and retention for a removable overdenture that the periodontist can “snap on” to your implant. The implant helps ensure that the full or partial denture does not move, and therefore, the need for glue or adhesives is reduced or removed altogether. It is also possible, in some cases, to use dental implants with a fixed denture.
18. Are Dental Implants Removable Like Dentures?
Dental implants are not removable. The implant itself is surgically placed in the jaw to allow for a stable attachment point for a false tooth or another dental device. As the implant is fixed solidly into the bone and any false teeth are placed on the “screw” portion of the implant, they become a permanent fixture in your mouth. This process ensures any missing teeth are replaced in a manner in which the appearance closest to that of your natural teeth.
19. How Much Do Implants Cost?
This is a complicated question as the answer will vary greatly depending on your specific situation. Your periodontist can help to provide an accurate final assessment of the costs for your particular procedure. Your provider will need to consider the following elements when determining the cost of implants:
- The quality and amount of existing bone in your jaw
- The number of implants you need to support your teeth
- The number of teeth that need replacing
- The type of artificial teeth to be used (single cap, partial denture, etc.)
- Any preexisting conditions or extractions that must be addressed before the implant procedure can take place
All of these considerations can and should be discussed with your periodontist at an initial consultation appointment. In most cases, the overall cost of replacing one single tooth with a dental implant is almost the same as replacing it with a traditional fixed bridge.
20. Will My Insurance Cover My implants?
Typically, dental insurance is limited regarding its coverage of dental implants. However, more companies are now starting to cover dental implants. Whether your procedure will be covered will depend on your insurer and the type of coverage you have. In some cases, the insurance will pay for the teeth placed on the implants, but not the implant itself. In others, they may pay for the implant but not the teeth. You will want to contact your insurance company before beginning any treatment or procedures related to dental implants to avoid any unexpected billing.
As with any surgical procedure, it is essential to do your research. Hopefully, the above information has provided answers to many of your questions and helped alleviate some of the most common concerns. Before scheduling an appointment for surgery, be sure to ask your periodontist to explain, in detail, the dental implant process, so you ensure you are comfortable with what to expect from start to finish. Each procedure is unique, and therefore, you are likely to have questions above and beyond the ones we have answered here. Thorough research will help prevent any surprises or unexpected problems from arising before, during, or after your implant surgery.