Dental implants are surgically-implanted medical devices intended to replace a missing tooth. Dental implants are a popular restorative solution for patients with missing or badly damaged teeth for aesthetic and functional reasons.
Aesthetically, dental implants restore your smile with a natural-looking, permanent tooth replacement. A dental implant also restores your natural chewing function and prevents jawbone loss and facial collapse due to missing teeth.
As a versatile and effective treatment option for missing teeth, a dental implant procedure can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life over the long term.
What Is a Dental Implant?
A dental implant is composed of three distinct parts: the post, the abutment, and the restoration.
The fixture (post) is a titanium screw that serves as the implant’s base and functions as an artificial tooth root. They are typically hollow, allowing the abutment to be screwed into the fixture. The post can come in various sizes to fit your mouth’s proportions.
The abutment serves as the connection between the dental implant post and the restoration. One end is screwed into the inside of the post, while the other end is attached to the crown.
There are several varieties of abutments to fit each individual prosthesis. The abutment can be placed during the fixture placement procedure or during a separate procedure after allowing the site to heal.
The restoration is the surface of the implant that is intended to replace the natural tooth. Depending on the type of implant required, you may need a crown, bridge, or denture restoration. The restoration is designed to be indistinguishable from natural teeth. It can be constructed with porcelain, ceramic, or composite.
When Is a Dental Implant Procedure Necessary?
Your dentist may prescribe dental implants for the following reasons:
Dental implants are the preferred treatment for patients who are missing teeth. The implant restores previous chewing functionality as well as the visual appearance of the tooth.
Another often overlooked benefit of using dental implants to replace missing teeth is bone loss prevention. Healthy jawbone tissue is constantly regenerating itself through a process called bone metabolism.
The movement and pressure during chewing stimulate this process; when patients are missing teeth, the bone metabolism process can slow or stop.
Dental implants support the bone metabolism process, preventing or reversing jaw bone loss.
Broken teeth are another common situation that is often treated with dental implants. Unlike in patients with missing teeth, broken teeth patients will still have some portion of the original tooth in the socket. Before installing dental implants, your dentist must remove the broken tooth from the socket to make room for the implant.
Dentures or partials often loosen over time; if your dentures are loose, your dentist may recommend replacing them with dental implants to provide a more permanent option requiring less upkeep.
How Does a Dental Implant Procedure Work?
The dental implant procedure takes several visits to complete. The procedure can be divided into these steps:
Your dentist will take your medical history, examine your mouth manually, and use X-rays or digital imaging to determine if you are a candidate for dental implants. Ideal candidates should have healthy gum tissue and sufficient jawbone depth and density.
If you receive dental implants to replace a broken or decayed tooth, your dentist will need to remove the affected tooth before moving on to the next steps.
Jawbone Prep and Bone Grafting
To receive a dental implant, the jawbone must be strong enough to support it. If the jawbone is too weak to support the implant, your dentist will need to perform a procedure to reinforce the bone. A bone graft is a surgically-implanted bone supplement that improves the density and volume of the jaw.
The sinus lift is usually used when the sinus cavity has invaded the space formerly occupied by the missing tooth’s root.
A sinus lift procedure involves raising the sinus membrane higher into the sinus cavity before placing a bone graft.
The recovery time for these procedures can vary based on the severity of the bone loss but can last up to nine months.
Implant Post Placement
The next step of the procedure is the actual placement of the implant. The procedure is relatively straightforward: your dentist makes an incision in the gum and then drills a hole in the bone slightly deeper than the implant post length.
Then, your dentist screws in the implant post, checks the implant’s stability and sutures the wound. They may also place a healing cap over the wound site to protect the implant during osseointegration.
You will need to allow time for the post to fuse once it is placed in the bone. During this process, called osseointegration, the jawbone bonds with the metal post. The pressure from the titanium screw stimulates the release of osteoclasts. These bone cells trigger mineral deposits to build up around the screw threads.
This is usually the most time-consuming step of the process and often takes four to six months to complete.
Once the osseointegration process is complete, you will need another minor procedure to place the abutment. The abutment is the part of the implant that connects the post to the crown.
During this procedure, your dentist reopens the gum to surgically place the abutment on the post. They will then close the gum around the abutment. You will need to allow about two weeks for your gums to heal before you move on to the next stage of the procedure.
Once your gums have healed from the abutment placement procedure, your dentist takes impressions of your mouth to create a mould. The mould is sent to a dental lab, where a technician creates a realistic-looking custom-fit artificial restoration. Your dentist places the restoration over the abutment, completing the procedure.
Dental Implant Aftercare
Once you undergo the dental implant procedure, you must follow your dentist’s aftercare instructions to ensure that your body heals properly.
Immediately After Surgery
If you requested IV sedation during your surgery, you should arrange to have someone drive you home. You may still be under the influence of anaesthesia, which can affect your ability to drive.
Control Bleeding and Swelling
The surgical site can continue to bleed for up to 72 hours.
Your dentist will recommend that you bite down on gauze every 6 hours to reduce bleeding and help your body heal.
You can try biting down on a moist tea bag if the gauze does not control the bleeding.
The tannic acids in the tea can help control bleeding by encouraging clotting and constricting the blood vessels.
To reduce swelling, apply an ice pack to the side of your face. Keep the compress on your face for 15-20 minutes at a time.
Take Medication as Instructed
Since you may experience mild discomfort once the anaesthesia wears off, your doctor may prescribe a prescription pain medication to help you manage the pain.
If not prescribed pain medication, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers; however, NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and naproxen) may interfere with the osseointegration process. Acetaminophen is the most common over-the-counter pain medication to control pain after surgery.
You may also need to take antibiotics after surgery. You should take the antibiotics as prescribed and continue taking them until your supply runs out.
Follow a Soft Diet
After surgery, avoid chewing near the implant site. Your dentist will recommend that you stick to a soft-food diet to prevent irritation. This means avoiding hard, crunchy, crumbly, or chewy foods until your surgical site heals.
Dental Implant Procedure Timeline
Since the dental implant process requires several visits and multiple surgeries, it takes significantly longer to complete than many other dental procedures. Depending on your overall dental health and recovery capabilities, the dental implant procedure timeline can range from a few weeks to over a year.
Dental Implant Procedure Complications and Risks
In general, the dental implant procedure is safe; however, as with any medical procedure, the dental implant procedure carries some risk of complications.
The most common complication is osseointegration failure, meaning the implant post and the jawbone fail to fuse. If this happens, your dentist may need to remove the implant and work with you to decide the best treatment.
Another risk that patients face during a dental implant procedure is sinus damage. Since the upper jaw and the sinus cavities are in such close proximity, implants placed in the upper row of the teeth can penetrate the sinus cavity. This puts patients at risk of infection and potentially-severe pain. To prevent this, your dentist may perform a sinus lift before the implant procedure.
Patients are also at risk of infection during a dental implant procedure. Oral surgeries often pose a relatively high infection risk, so your dentist may preemptively prescribe you antibiotics to prevent an infection from developing. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you may have developed an infection and must receive immediate medical treatment to prevent it from spreading:
- Tooth pain, particularly when chewing or biting
- Jaw pain
- Inflammation in the head, neck, gums, mouth, surgical site, or lymph nodes
- Fluid draining from the surgical site
- Bleeding or very red gums
- Discoloured gums
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Foul taste in the mouth
- Inability to taste
- Pimples on the gums
- Blisters in the back of the throat
Dental Implants at Oakleigh Smiles
A dental implant can drastically improve your quality of life and self-confidence if you have missing teeth. If you believe you may benefit from a dental implant, call Oakleigh Smiles on (03) 9007 2258 and book a dental implant consultation.
We use state-of-the-art implants from MIS, Nobel Biocare, and Straumann at Oakleigh Smiles to ensure a high implant success rate. Our experienced and compassionate dental professionals can design a dental implant treatment plan for you and get you started on the path towards a healthy, beautiful smile.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
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