Dental implant surgery is a procedure that replaces tooth roots with metal, screw-like posts and replaces damaged or missing teeth with artificial teeth that look and function much like real ones. Dental implant surgery can offer a welcome alternative to dentures or bridgework that doesn't fit well.
How dental implant surgery is performed depends on the type of implant and the condition of your jawbone. But all dental implant surgery occurs in stages and may involve several procedures. The major benefit of implants is solid support for your new teeth — a process that requires the bone to heal tightly around the implant. Because this healing requires time, the process can take many months.
Dental implants are surgically placed in your jawbone, where they serve as the roots of missing teeth. Because the titanium in the implants fuses with your jawbone, the implants won't slip, make noise or cause bone damage the way fixed bridgework or dentures might. And the materials can't decay like your own teeth that support regular bridgework can.
In general, dental implants may be right for you if you:
Have one or more missing teeth
Have a jawbone that's reached full growth
Have adequate bone to secure the implants or are able to have a bone graft
Have healthy oral tissues
Don't have health conditions that will affect bone healing
Are unable or unwilling to wear dentures
Want to improve your speech
Are willing to commit several months to the process
Your damaged tooth is removed.
Your jawbone is prepared for surgery, a process that may involve bone grafting.
After your jawbone heals, your oral surgeon places the dental implant metal post in your jawbone.
You go through a healing period that may last several months.
Your oral surgeon places the abutment — an extension of the implant metal post — followed by your new artificial tooth (crown).
The entire process can take many months from start to finish — three to nine months and sometimes longer. Much of that time is devoted to healing and waiting for the growth of new bone in your jaw.
You and your dental specialist can choose from two main types of artificial teeth:
A removable implant prosthesis. This type is similar to a conventional removable denture. It contains artificial white teeth surrounded by pink plastic gum. It's mounted on a metal frame that's attached to the implant abutment, and it snaps securely into place. It can be easily removed for repair or daily cleaning. It's often a good choice when several teeth in the lower jaw are replaced, mainly because it's more affordable than multiple individual dental implants and yet more secure than a traditional denture.
A fixed implant prosthesis. In this type, an artificial tooth is permanently screwed or cemented onto an individual implant abutment. You can't remove the tooth for cleaning or during sleep. If affordability isn't a concern, you can opt to replace several missing teeth this way. Each crown is attached to its own dental implant.
Whether you have dental implant surgery in one stage or multiple stages, you may experience some of the typical discomforts associated with any type of dental surgery, such as:
Swelling of your gums and face
Bruising of your skin and gums
Pain at the implant site
If swelling, discomfort or any other problem gets worse in the days after surgery, contact your oral surgeon. You may need pain medications or antibiotics.
After each stage of surgery, you may need to eat soft foods while the surgical site heals — as long as 10 to 14 days. Typically, your surgeon will use stitches that dissolve on their own. If your stitches aren't self-dissolving, your doctor removes them in about 10 days.