There’s no doubt that dental implants can transform your teeth, confidence, and self-esteem. However, the procedure is neither simple nor cheap, and many factors must be considered before investing in implants. Is the procedure necessary? How would it improve your life? What about the long-term impact and any risks? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Are Dental Implants?
Dental implants are artificial (false) teeth that replace missing or damaged teeth and look and function like real ones. Implants are a long-term solution to dental problems as they are permanently attached to the jaw and can last for life with proper care, cleaning, and regular dental visits. They can replace a single tooth, several teeth, or even a full mouth. Dental implants have three parts:
- Implant – metal posts (like screws) are surgically placed in or on the upper or lower jaw bone to provide a sturdy base for replacement teeth. Over time, the bone fuses with the metal to hold it in place.
- Abutment – a metal connector that screws into the implant at the base and secures it to the crown
- Crown – the top visible part of a tooth, usually made of porcelain or ceramic to blend in with the natural appearance of your teeth
What to Expect From a Dental Implant Procedure
Dental implant surgery involves several steps. It may be done in a single procedure or over a few separate procedures. This allows time between procedures for healing and for your jaw bone to fuse with the implant. The entire tooth replacement process for dental implants can take 3-6 months from start to finish. The number of procedures will depend on your needs, the condition of your jawbone, and the type of implant. Here is a general guide for what to expect before, during, and after dental implant procedures:
Before dental implant surgery, your specialist (a dentist or periodontist) will first do the following:
- Conduct a comprehensive dental examination, including taking x-rays and 3D images of your mouth and making a model of your jaw and teeth.
- Review your medical history and ask questions to check if you have other conditions or take any medications that may interfere with the surgery or your recovery.
- Tailor a treatment plan for you based on your jaw and teeth condition and how many teeth need to be replaced.
- Provide instructions to you about eating and drinking before the surgery. They will also share how to make arrangements for getting to the clinic and home again on the day. At the beginning of the procedure, you will receive a local or general anesthetic to prevent you from feeling any pain. You may have to fast from eating and drinking the day before the surgery. So, you may feel tired and groggy after the surgery and will not be unable to drive yourself home.
Dental implant surgery generally happens in the following stages:
- Removal of the damaged tooth or teeth
- Preparation of the jawbone for surgery through bone grafting. This procedure replaces and regenerates lost bone and is usually only needed when teeth have been damaged due to trauma, injury, or decay.
- Placing of the dental implant (metal screw) into or onto the jaw bone
- The time between surgeries allows for healing and the bone to grow around the implant and hold it in place.
- Placing of the abutment that will eventually connect the implant with the artificial tooth that is visible.
- Placing of the artificial tooth/teeth (a dental crown for single teeth and dentures or a bridge for multiple teeth)
Afterward the procedure
Following each procedure, you may experience some mild symptoms or need to change your routine slightly while your mouth heals. Here is what to expect:
- Feeling tired or groggy – This is due to the anesthetic. You may need someone to drive you home after the surgery and to take the remainder of the day off to rest.
- Pain in your mouth or bruising of your gums – This is normal, just like any other dental procedure or minor surgery. Your dentist may recommend pain medications or antibiotics to aid your recovery.
- Swelling of your gums and face – This may last a couple of days; speak to your dentist if it gets worse or does not go away.
- What you can and can’t eat – Your dentist may recommend eating soft foods, cold foods, or warm soups while your mouth heals from the surgery. You should avoid eating anything particularly hard, sticky, or chewy.
Most dental implants are successful. However, sometimes there are complications, such as when the bone fails to fuse well enough with the implant. If this happens, the implant is removed, the bone cleaned up, and the procedure can be tried again in a few months after the mouth has healed.
As with any other surgical procedure, there are also risks involved with getting dental implants, including infection, damage to nearby teeth or blood vessels, nerve damage, or sinus problems. However, dental implant surgery is a fairly common procedure. It is considered safe enough to be an outpatient procedure, which means you don’t need to spend time in the hospital.
Dental Implants Cost and Insurance Coverage
Getting dental implants can be expensive. The cost will depend on the number of implants needed to support your replacement teeth. Without insurance, a single implant can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $6,000. Medical insurance may cover the cost of dental implants in some special cases, but this is unusual as Medicare (Part A & Part B) does not cover most dental procedures.
Following an initial consultation, your dentist will discuss a treatment plan with you and provide an estimate of the cost. This will help you determine your level of insurance coverage (if any) and the out-of-pocket expenses. Many dentists offer financing options where you can pay the amount in smaller installments over time.
Dental Implants vs. Dentures
Dental implants offer several advantages over other teeth replacement options like dentures. See below for a comparison of dental implants and dentures on several key factors for your consideration:
- Comfort – Dental implants generally fit better, stay in place, don’t make noise, and feel more comfortable than dentures.
- Functionality – Dental implants are designed to function like normal teeth. They are more stable than dentures, allowing you to bite and chew as you usually would without avoiding certain foods.
- Care & maintenance – Dentures must be removed and cleaned daily. Conversely, implants are secured in your mouth, so there is no need to remove them. You simply need to care for them the same way you would normal teeth – by brushing, flossing, and attending regular check-ups at the dentist.
- Long-term oral health – Dental implants are better for the health of your jaw bone and teeth in the long run because they don’t cause bone damage or decay your teeth the way dentures can.
- Cost – Dentures are much cheaper than dental implants, but implants are a longer-term solution, so they can be viewed as an investment.
- Necessity – Sometimes, dental implants are the only suitable solution if the condition of your mouth and teeth can no longer support dentures.