Dental implants are the best option for replacing missing teeth. Unlike dentures and bridges, dental implants replace the tooth above and below the gumline. This prevents and even reverses bone loss in the jaw and results in a stronger bite. If you’ve decided on implants, you’re probably excited about the prospect of a beautiful smile but nervous about the process of getting to that point. In this step-by-step guide to the dental implant procedure, we’ll talk about what you can expect from start to finish.
What is a Dental Implant?
First off, you may be asking, what is a dental implant? There are two parts to the implant, the implant post and the implant crown. The implant post is the part that is surgically placed into the jawbone and provides stability for chewing. The implant crown is placed above the gums and looks just like a natural tooth. The implant post needs time for the bone heal around it before you put the implant crown on top. This healing process can take anywhere from 3-6 months before you will be able to use it like a normal tooth. The implant post procedure is done by our highly skilled oral surgeon, and the implant crown procedure is completed by our General Dentist, Dr. Andrew McDonald. Now we will go into each step in more detail.
1. Consultation and Imaging
During your first meeting with us, our goal is to ensure that you’re a good candidate for dental implants. This involves talking to you about your expectations, doing a thorough exam, discussing your dental and medical history, and taking digital imaging so we have an accurate model of your teeth and jaw. This information will help to determine if you are ready for the next step in the implant process.
2. Oral Surgeon Referral
If you are a good candidate for the procedure, then we would refer you to our highly skilled oral surgeon who will do a final preoperative evaluation to determine how best to complete the procedure for optimum healing. All of these decisions depend on how much healthy bone you still have around where the implant will be placed. Our oral surgeon will explain all of the necessary steps for your particular case before the day of the procedure.
3. Tooth Extraction, Bone Grafting
If there is still a tooth where the dental implant is to go, then it must be extracted. If bone loss has already occurred in the jaw, you will need to undergo bone grafting before we place your dental implants. Implants only work when the jawbone is strong enough to support them; the most common cause of dental implant failure is insufficient jawbone. Rebuilding the bone with natural or synthetic bone grafts is key to a successful dental implant procedure for patients with bone loss.
4. Dental Implant Placement
Now we’re ready to place your dental implants. The oral surgeon will fully numb the area where we’re working and offer sedation options if needed. Next, the oral surgeon make an incision in your gums to expose the upper or lower jawbone, prepare the bone and insert a small titanium post to replace the root of your tooth. This might sound scary, but most patients are surprised at how little discomfort they experience during the procedure. After placing your implants, we will stitch your gums and await osseointegration.
Osseointegration is the word we use to describe the process of the jawbone and implants integrating so the implants are securely attached to the jaw. This can take several months, but it’s worth the wait––osseointegration provides a stable base for your new teeth and it’s critical to implant success.
6. Abutment and Crown Attachment
This is the most exciting step in the process––your new teeth will be attached to the fully healed implant post. The abutment is the piece that attaches to your dental implant above the gumline and acts as an anchor for the crown. It is usually made with titanium, and it will connect the implant post to the crown. To create the abutment and crown, we have you in for a 15 minute impression appointment. We also carefully match the color of the crown to the rest of your teeth. In a few weeks, the crown is ready to be attached and used like a normal tooth. All the work we’ve done to get to this step will ensure that your new teeth look and function just like natural teeth.
Maintaining dental implants is easy because you care for them the same way you care for natural teeth. Brush for two minutes twice a day and floss at least once a day. Be diligent about dental exams and cleanings every six months. With proper care, your dental implants will last a lifetime.