Dental Implants: The Procedure & How They Work

Dental implant procedure

Dental implants are inserted into places where teeth are missing. They are used for cosmetic purposes, but implants can also help to aid in chewing. I have two implants, and this post will help answer common questions you may have about implants.

The Initial Appointment
Typically, you must visit a dentist and an oral surgeon for implants. The initial visit is to your family dentist. Once there, the dentist will take x-rays and determine if you are a good candidate for an implant. People with no infection, non-smokers and those with overall good dental hygiene are the best candidates. Once you’ve been deemed fit for surgery, your family dentist will refer you to a surgeon.

The Surgical Operation for Dental Implants
During your surgical visit, the surgeon will give you anesthesia and insert a metal screw into your gums. This process allows the screw to fuse and anchor against the jawbone. This makes the site for your new tooth a sturdy one. Once the titanium screw has been inserted, you usually wait 2-4 months for the site to heal and to allow time for the screw to anchor.

Aftercare Instructions for Dental Implants
Implant surgery has a high rate of success in dental patients. In order to increase your chances of success, there are several things you can do after your surgery. The following tips are generally recommended, but check with your surgeon if you have a question:

  • Do not rub the implant site with your hands or tongue for several days after the surgery.
  • Eat soft foods for the first 24 hours after the surgery.
  • Apply an ice pack to the surgical site to minimize swelling.
  • Use over-the-counter pain meds for pain once the anesthesia has worn off.
  • If prescribed antibiotics, take as directed to avoid infection.
  • Rinse with warm, salty water several times daily for the first few days.
  • Call your doctor if excessive bleeding or swelling occur.

I ate a few hours after my surgery. Because I ate while my mouth was still numb, I inadvertently chewed the inside of my cheek. Once the pain meds wore off, my cheek was sore, scarred and bleeding. To keep this from happening to you, do not eat until after the anesthetic has worn off.

You should be able to return to normal daily activities the day after surgery. Some swelling and bleeding are normal. However, if you experience extreme bleeding or pain that cannot be treated with over-the-counter meds, contact your dentist.

Follow-up Visit
After your surgery, you will generally follow-up with the surgeon or with your family dentist. The doctor will determine if the site has healed and conduct an oral exam to check for infection.

After the site is determined to have healed, your family dentist will fit you for a crown. A crown is an artificial tooth that is generally made of porcelain. To fit you for the crown, the dentist will take impressions of your teeth to measure their size. This determines what size crown you need.

Crown Placement
When you return to the dentist, your new crown will have arrived from the laboratory. The dentist will place this new tooth in your mouth and check the fit of it. The crown may need to be sanded down so that it fits comfortably with the rest of your teeth. If an adjustment is required, the dentist will generally use dental tools to do so during your visit.

The dentist might ask you to make chewing motions or bite down on something to test the size and fit. Once the crown is fitted, the dentist will cement it to the metal abutment that protrudes from your gum.

Cost
The cost of your dental implant will be determined by a number of factors. Some forms of dental insurance might cover partial costs, but most will not cover the entire bill. Your bill will normally include the following:

  • The oral surgery
  • The abutment
  • A porcelain crown
  • X-rays
  • Anesthesia
  • Office visits

The cost to replace one tooth can be several thousand dollars. However, your cost will vary depending on the type of insurance and your individual care plan. My x-rays and office visits were mostly covered by my insurance plan. However, the cost of the abutment, the surgery, and the crown were my own responsibility.

My total bill for the oral surgeon fee and the abutment was around $2,000 per tooth. In addition to that, the cost of each crown was around $1,000 each. I had student health insurance at the time, so my insurance didn’t pay much. I paid approximately $6,000 total to replace my two missing teeth.

Implants vs. Removable Dentures
While some people rely on removable dentures, implants are also popular. When given the choice between implants and dentures, I chose implants. I didn’t want to be able to pull my teeth on and off. I also didn’t want the hassle of using denture grip to glue teeth in every day.

I’ve noticed that some people have removable dentures that are difficult to affix. Removable dentures can also make it difficult to chew food properly. However, my implants are not removable and they are sturdy enough for me to chew comfortably. Though some implants can become detached from the bone, the success rate in patients is high.

Oral Hygiene
If properly cared for, implants can last a lifetime. After you’ve received your implant, you should resume your regular oral hygiene schedule. My dentist recommended that I do all of the following as usual:

  • Brush teeth at least twice daily.
  • Floss daily.
  • Schedule dental check-ups twice yearly.
  • Consult the dental office immediately if dental problems arise.

Though you should brush your teeth and floss them as usual, flossing may require a different method. It may be difficult to floss between tight crowns. Ask your dentist to recommend a special flosser.

Longevity of Implants
Most patients have success with crowns and implants. If properly cared for, crowns can last for numerous years and implants are designed to last a lifetime. However, crowns may sometimes break or chip. Even implants can shift out of position. If any such problems arise, contact your dentist.

I’ve had my two implants for about two years now, and I’ve had no problems with them. They look and feel like natural teeth, so I often forget they are there. So far, I haven’t experienced any pain or discomfort since my surgery site healed.

Conclusion
In short, implants can improve your smile by replacing your missing teeth. If left untreated, gaps in your mouth from tooth loss can lead to more spaces as your teeth shift to cover gaps. This can result in the loss of more teeth. Missing teeth can also change your facial shape and cause you to have difficulty chewing.

While my implants were costly, I would say they are worth the money, the time and the surgery. If you are considering implant surgery, contact your dentist for a consultation.