If you have a cracked, infected, or missing tooth, your dentist may suggest implant surgery to fix the problem. A dental implant is a tiny metal post that acts as an artificial tooth root. It sits in your jaw and supports a crown, so it looks completely natural and is one of the most durable dental solutions.
Even though dental implants have a success rate of about 95%, WebMD¹ reports, dental implant surgery is not a simple procedure – and that’s why you should understand how the dental implant procedure works before your appointment. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you know what to expect during the process of getting dental implants.
Step 1: X-rays
During your first appointment, your dentist will take x-rays to get a complete image of your mouth and jaw. The x-rays will help your dentist identify problems like impacted teeth or bone loss and come up with the best treatment plan. Depending on what the x-rays reveal about the state of your teeth and jaw, you may need additional procedures along with the implants.
Step 2: Impressions
An impression is an imprint of your teeth and mouth that helps your dentist accurately place the implants and create a crown. To make an impression, your dentist will place a liquid material onto a U-shaped impression tray. Then, the tray will be placed onto your teeth until the liquid hardens. When the impression is complete, your dentist will send it to a dental laboratory. There, experts will make the crown to be placed over the implant.
Step 3: Tooth Extraction
Before extracting your tooth or teeth, your dentist will numb the area with local anesthetic. Then, he or she will cut away the surrounding tissue and gently loosen the tooth until it breaks free. Once the tooth is removed, your dentist will place a gauze pad into the socket to control the bleeding.
Depending on which tooth was extracted and how healthy your jawbone is, your dentist may place the implant immediately after your extraction. You may need a few weeks or months to heal from the extraction before getting the implant, though. If you have bone loss from infection or gum disease, you may need a bone graft before your implant can be placed. Recovery from a jawbone graft usually takes months.
Step 4: Getting the Implants
Dental implant surgery can be done under local or general anesthesia. If you’re using general anesthesia, you’ll have to follow strict rules about eating and drinking before the procedure. You should also prepare to have someone drive you home and stay with you for the rest of the day.
After administering the anesthesia, your dentist will cut open your gum to expose the bone underneath. Then, he or she will drill a hole into the bone where the implant will be placed. Depending on the location of the implant, your dentist may place a temporary denture over the implant to fill in the missing tooth.
Step 5: The Finishing Touch
It takes several months for your jawbone to heal around the implant. Eventually, your jaw will fuse with the metal implant to create a solid base for the crown. Once your jaw has fully healed, your dentist will fill in your missing tooth with an abutment and crown.
This procedure is usually done with local anesthesia. First, your dentist will open your gums to expose the dental implant. Then, he or she will attach the abutment to the implant and close up the tissue. The abutment will stick up through your gums, so your dentist can attach a crown.
Important Steps for After Surgery
After the implant is placed in your jaw, you’ll need several days off to recover. Taking good care of yourself will speed up the recovery process and allow you to return to your daily activities as soon as possible. Here are some of the best things you can do while you recover:
Manage pain, bleeding, swelling, and bruising. You’ll probably experience some discomfort in the days following your implant surgery. Bleeding is common during the first 24 hours, but you can keep it under control by biting down on a gauze pad. Use ice to reduce swelling and take pain medications as instructed by your dentist.
Follow the right diet. Hard and crunchy foods can put too much strain on your jaw after the surgery, so you should stick to liquids and soft foods for several days. Soup, yogurt, applesauce, and smoothies are great foods to try.
Rest and relax. You should take at least two or three days off of work to heal from the surgery. On the day of the surgery, plan to stay in bed or on the couch as any activity may cause extra bleeding or discomfort.
Keep the surgical area clean. A saltwater rinse is a great way to keep the implant site clean while it heals. As soon as the swelling goes down, you should resume your normal oral hygiene routine. Don’t brush the surgical area aggressively, but make sure it’s clean.
Practice good oral hygiene. Once the dental implant has healed, you should take care of the crown just like you take care of your natural teeth. Brush twice per day and floss regularly, and don’t forget to visit your dentist regularly for checkups. If you take good care of your oral health, your dental implant can last a lifetime.
It’s important to be prepared for your upcoming dental implant surgery. Your dentist will tell you plenty of information, but you should still do you own research to make sure you understand the procedure. The more informed you are, the calmer you’ll feel during and after the surgery.