Missing teeth can throw your bite out of alignment, altering your facial shape. They can also make you self-conscious about your smile.
If you choose to replace missing teeth, your dentist may recommend artificial teeth that are attached in or near the jawbone with a dental implant.
Dental implants are artificial tooth roots that are surgically placed into the jawbone. Over the course of several months, the bone surrounding the implant grows, holding it securely in place. Replacement teeth are then attached with a metal connector to the implant, filling in the gap.
Types of dental implants
There are two major types of dental implants:
Endosteal (in the bone) Endosteal implants are the most common type of dental implant.
They usually resemble small screws. Endosteal implants are made from body-safe materials, such as titanium.
Endosteal implants are surgically inserted deep into the jawbone where they take the place of tooth roots. One implant can be used to anchor one or several teeth.
Subperiosteal (on the bone) This type of implant is used when there’s not enough healthy jawbone available to support an endosteal implant.
Subperiosteal implants are inserted under the gum but aren’t drilled into the jawbone. They are placed above or on the bone, rather than in it.
Surgery timeline and recovery
Dental implant procedures require multiple steps over a period of around 3 to 9 months. You may need the help of several types of dental specialists, including a periodontist and oral surgeon, before treatment is complete.
The first step will be getting your teeth, gums, and jawbone evaluated. An important part of this initial assessment is determining whether you have enough healthy jawbone to maintain the implant.
If your jawbone is too thin or soft, a bone graft or other procedure may be suggested before beginning the dental implant process. Your gums must also be free of periodontal disease.
Dental implants are done to replace one or more teeth. The number of teeth you wish to replace will determine the type and scope of the procedure you can expect.
Dental implant surgery is usually an outpatient procedure. It may be done under local anesthesia, IV sedation, or general anesthesia. Your specialist will let you know ahead of time which type of anesthesia you’ll need.
Placing the implant
If you have an endosteal implant:
An oral surgeon will cut the gum, exposing the jawbone underneath.
Holes will be drilled deep into the bone, where the implant post will be inserted.
If you choose, a temporary, removable denture can be placed over the hole, for aesthetic purposes, until the permanent tooth can be attached to the implant.
If you have a subperiosteal implant, your jawbone won’t be drilled, and the implant post will be placed on or above the bone.
No matter which type of implant you receive, you can expect to feel some discomfort and swelling afterwards. This may last for several days. Most people find that they can resume their daily activities the day after a dental implant has been placed.
After the dental implant is placed, it will take anywhere from 2 to 6 months before enough new bone growth occurs around the screw. This process is known as osseointegration, meaning “combining with the bone.”
During osseointegration, natural jaw bone will strengthen and grow around the dental implant. This keeps it firmly in place, so it can function as the artificial tooth’s root.
A metal extender called an abutment is typically added to the implant. This may be done during the initial procedure or during a second minor procedure under a local anesthetic.
Abutments are used to connect the replacement tooth to the implant.
If an abutment is added during a second procedure, the surgeon may need to make an incision if gum tissue has grown over the implant. This is because a healing cap is placed over the implant after the implant is placed. While this is used to protect the implant, it also typically prevents tissue from growing over it.
During the second procedure, the healing cap will be removed, and the abutment will be screwed onto the dental implant. The gum tissue will then contour around the abutment.
The gums will take several weeks to heal after the abutment placement.
Placing the tooth
Once healing is complete, your dentist will take an impression of your teeth so that your permanent replacement tooth or teeth can be made to fit. These can be fixed or removable.
If you opt for a removable tooth, it will be mounted onto a metal frame and attached to the abutment. This type of tooth can be removed at home for daily cleaning.
If you opt for a fixed tooth, it will be permanently cemented or screwed onto the abutment.
After the process is complete, let your dentist know if your mouth feels uncomfortable in any way or if you experience:
uneven or uncomfortable bite
Your new teeth will look and feel natural. They must be cared for with daily brushing and flossing. No special materials are needed to clean them. You can treat them the same way you treat your natural teeth.
Make sure to also see your dentist for regular checkups.