While it may be hard to believe, the earliest version of modern dental implants first appeared back in 600 A.D., according to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID). Luckily, modern prosthodontics has come a long way since that time. Today, dental implants are the most common and one of the most popular patient options for replacing missing teeth.
If you are thinking about having dental implants, you are definitely not alone. And you probably have lots of questions about what it will be like, what to expect and what the recovery process entails.
In this article, we will walk you through the steps to getting dental implants, how to prepare and what you can expect in the recovery process.
What Are Dental Implants?
Dental implants are artificial anchors that create a stable and secure, permanent way to replacing missing teeth with real-appearing prosthetic teeth.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dental implants are traditionally made from titanium and similar materials that the body readily accepts.
The implant base is like a screw that literally screws into the jaw bone itself. This is why dental implants are so secure and permanent. The jaw bone eventually assimilates the implant screw as a part of the jaw itself.
Dental implants are a very common and popular surgery with a decades-long history of success among a wide variety of patients.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Dental Implants?
The main criteria for establishing whether you are a good candidate for dental implants revolves around your overall health and your dental health.
If you have good general health and you do not smoke (or are willing to stop until your implants heal) is generally good, you will likely be a good candidate to have dental implants.
You should have basically healthy gums and a strong jawbone overall. In many cases, artificial or synthetic bone can be used to fortify your own jawbone in areas where the bone is thinning or missing.
It is also important to make sure the jawbone is done growing before placing implants.
How Are Dental Implants Placed?
Dental implants can be placed in the upper jaw or the lower jaw.
As the American Academy of Periodontology explains, in recent years, many innovative new techniques have been developed to place dental implants even when portions of the jaw bone are missing or less robust.
These new technologies make dental implants a viable option for even more patients.
The process of placing dental implants involves two or three main steps depending on what type of implants you are having placed.
The implant itself is placed into the existing jaw bone and secured with the titanium screw. Then there is a waiting period of three to six months to allow the implant to be fully accepted into and integrated with the jaw bone. This process is called "osseo-integration."
After osseo-integration is complete, the next step is to attach a mounting post to the implant screw itself. This second step is not always necessary. Sometimes steps one and two are done during one single procedure. The location of the implant and the condition of the patient's jawbone dictate the best way to proceed.
Step three is the most exciting step. This is the step where the finished permanent prosthetic tooth, or crown, is attached to the post. Once this step is done, you have a new permanent prosthetic tooth that looks and matches your surrounding teeth.
What If You Need a Jaw Bone Graft?
If your existing jawbone is insufficiently high or dense to support placement of the screw and post, you may need to have an additional pre-implant procedure to place a bone graft.
For minor bone graft needs, sometimes this can be done at the same time the screw and/or the screw and post is placed.
But for more major bone graft procedures, you will need to have the graft placed first and allow it several months to heal and fuse with the surrounding natural bone before you can have your screw and post placed.
How Do You Prepare to Have Dental Implants?
It is important to stop smoking at least two to three weeks before having dental implants placed and to be willing to do this until the procedure is complete, which can take up to a year according to Very Well Health.
This is because smoking causes the body to heal less quickly.
If your prosthodontist is planning to use general anesthesia to sedate you, you may need to have someone drive you home after your procedures.
You may also need to take antibiotics and temporary pain medications, so be sure to get any prescriptions filled before your procedure date.
Are There Any Risks or Side Effects to Dental Implants?
As with any type of invasive procedure, there is always a risk of poor healing (especially if you are a smoker) or infection at the implant site.
As the respected Mayo Clinic explains, there is also a risk that surrounding tissues, nerves, vessels or gums may be damaged during the procedure.
Nerve damage may result in further risks such as tingling, numbness, speech alteration, lingering tenderness or pain.
For dental implants that are scheduled to be placed in the upper jaw, there is an additional risk of damage to the sinus passages, especially if implants extend up into the sinuses.
What Is Recovery Like After Getting Dental Implants?
The biggest question many dental implant patients have is about what the recovery is like after getting dental implants.
The first thing to know is that you may have to undergo more than one or two procedures, each of which will have their own recovery process and recovery time.
How many procedures you specifically need to have your dental implants placed will depend on how many implants you are having done, where they are located, and what type of placement system is used, as Medical News Today explains.
If you have one procedure to place the screw and the post, then your recovery time from that procedure may be anywhere from six to 12 months.
If you have two procedures, one to place the screw and another to replace the post, then you will have two recovery periods within that six to 12 month period.
And if you have any complications from either procedure, you may have to return to the prosthodontist for additional treatment.
If you need an initial bone graft, you will also have a several months-long recovery as that graft heals and fuses.
In general, these are the major temporary symptoms that dental implant patients report during the recovery process:
All of these recovery issues should subside within the first few days. If all goes well, after two weeks have gone by you should be feeling like your normal self.
Receiving dental implants is a major decision requiring a significant time commitment. But it also comes with a big payoff!