Dealing with missing or damaged teeth can not only leave you feeling self-conscious about your smile, but it can also impact your quality of life and the foods you eat. Repairing teeth and filling in gaps may allow you to eat, drink, speak more normally, and feel more confident when you smile. Dental implants are one option for replacing missing teeth.
Dental implants have been used for decades, and the technology, materials, and procedures implemented have continued to improve. According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, “3 million people in the United States have implants, a number that is growing by 500,000 annually.” If you are considering dental implants, you are not alone.
As you prepare for your consultation with an oral surgeon, here are some questions you might want to ask:
What are Dental Implants?
You have likely heard of dental implants, but what exactly are they? Simply put, a dental implant replaces the tooth root. A small titanium post is implanted in the jawbone filling the place of the original root. This titanium fuses to the bone through a process called osseointegration and forms a strong foundation to support an artificial tooth.
Once the implant is placed, a connector called an abutment is fitted on top, and this attaches to the replacement crown and holds it in position. The oral surgeon ensures that the dental implant is precisely inserted to support either a single tooth or a dental prosthetic such as a bridge or dentures.
How Do I Know If I Need a Dental Implant?
Replacing missing teeth is not the only reason you may want to consider dental implants as a treatment option. They can also be beneficial if:
- You have loose or damaged teeth that are unable to be repaired and will need to be extracted.
- You have a bridge or dentures that are uncomfortable or slip out of place.
Am I a Good Candidate for Dental Implants?
Although you may want dental implants, it is important to make sure you are a good candidate for the procedure. Fortunately, many people are, and issues such as low bone mass can often be corrected to allow for implants. Here are some of the qualifications oral surgeons often look for:
- You have one or more missing teeth.
- You have adequate bone mass and structure to support implants.
- You are not a smoker or are open to quitting. (Smoking can interfere with healing.)
- You have healthy gums.
- You want to improve how your teeth function and look.
What are the Benefits of Dental Implants?
Many people opt for dental implants because they are a durable, long-lasting tooth replacement solution. In addition, they:
- Blend in with existing teeth to create a natural-looking smile.
- Restore the full function of your teeth, allowing you to eat the foods you like.
- Are fixed in place so they will not shift or move around when you talk, laugh, or eat.
- Do not deteriorate because the implant is made of titanium.
- May reduce the need for future procedures.
Are Dental Implants Safe?
While any surgery comes with potential risks, dental implants are considered relatively safe with a low prevalence of serious complications. In general, dental implants have around a 98 percent success rate. Your doctor can address any specific risks and concerns you may have about the procedure.
Are Dental Implants Removable?
While bridges and dentures can be removed for cleaning or while sleeping, dental implants are fixed in place. Once they are inserted, they fuse to the bone and are cared for like natural teeth without the need for removal.
How Long Do Dental Implants Last?
As long as you continue to care for your dental implant, it may last the rest of your lifetime. While the crown may need to be replaced due to wear and tear over time, the implant itself should not deteriorate. Titanium is a very strong, durable, biocompatible material. Once it integrates with existing bone, it is fused in place.
Can Dental Implants and Dentures Be Used Together?
While your doctor may be able to retrofit your dentures to work with implants, this is not necessarily an effective choice. However, there are implant-supported dentures designed specifically for use with dental implants. All-on-4 implants can be used to replace a full arch using as few as four dental implants. They can also be used to support bar-attachment dentures.
Are There Limitations to What I Can Do with Dental Implants?
Many people choose dental implants because they function like natural teeth. Because the implant fuses with the bone, it creates a strong foundation that can withstand biting and chewing. In addition, the placement also stimulates the bone to prevent reabsorption that can occur with missing teeth when there is no root. This can help preserve facial structure.
You should only eat soft foods while the implant heals and fuses with the bone, but once this process is complete and your permanent replacement teeth have been attached, there are no limits to what you can eat – crunchy, tough, and sticky foods included.
How Can I Prepare for Dental Implant Surgery?
Before undergoing surgery, you will want to let your doctor know about any chronic or underlying medical conditions so they can evaluate your situation and plan accordingly. Any conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes should be well managed.
If you smoke, it is recommended that you stop at least two weeks before surgery and for a minimum of two weeks after. Smoking can slow down your body’s ability to heal and reduce the flow of blood and oxygen to the surgical site. It can also interfere with the fusion of the implant with the bone and increase the risk of infection and other complications.
How Long Does Surgery Take?
While the timing may vary based on the complexity of the procedure and if any extractions or bone grafts are being performed at the same time, it generally takes one to two hours to place a single implant and longer if you are getting multiple implants. The oral surgeon may use advanced imaging and technology to enhance the precision of the placement.
If the implant is placed below the gum, you will need a follow-up procedure to uncover it after the area has healed. If a healing abutment is used instead, you will not need this procedure.
Can I Get Dental Implants Immediately After Tooth Extraction?
Normally you must wait until your bone and gums have healed from tooth extraction before undergoing dental implant surgery, but in certain situations, the doctor may be able to place the implants at the same time. This may reduce the total number of procedures and the length of recovery time needed for dental implants.
What Does Dental Implant Surgery Entail?
Before beginning surgery, the oral surgeon will use a variety of scans and surgical guides to determine the precise placement of each implant. Advancements in technology allow surgeons to more clearly visualize bone and tooth structures and make smaller, more accurate holes for the insertion of the implants.
The doctor will extract any existing teeth that need to be removed or make an incision in the gum if replacing an already missing tooth. A small hole is made to anchor the dental implant using a dental drill. It will be covered with the gums, or a healing abutment will be attached. A few sutures may be used to close the incision site.
What is the Recovery Process Like?
Local anesthesia or general anesthesia is often administered during surgery, depending on your preference. You may experience some bruising, swelling, and bleeding immediately after the procedure, but this should subside within a day or two. Any discomfort can often be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers, but prescription medication may be provided to help with pain management and swelling, as well as to reduce the risk of infection.
Following surgery, you may want to take one to two days off to rest and recover. Many patients resume their normal activities after a few days, but you should avoid exercising for at least one week. You will want to stick to a liquid diet immediately after the procedure (without using a straw), then shift to soft foods as you are able, avoiding chewing near the surgical site.
It will take approximately three months for the implant to fully fuse with the bone. During this time, you will want to be mindful of what you eat, avoiding foods that are very tough, crunchy, or sticky so as not to disrupt healing. Once the implant is securely fused in place, the surgeon will attach your permanent replacement teeth.
How Much Do Dental Implants Cost?
The cost of dental implants can be affected by numerous factors such as:
- The number and location of implants.
- Whether tooth extractions or bone grafts are necessary.
- The type of sedation administered.
- The type of material used for the implant and replacement teeth.
Once the oral surgeon has completed their evaluation and developed a treatment plan, they can provide you with more specific pricing. Many providers offer financing or payment plans to make dental implants more affordable.
Does Insurance Cover Dental Implants?
Coverage will depend on your individual plan. While insurance may not pay for the actual dental implants, it may help cover the costs of scans, tooth extractions, and certain dental prosthetics. You will want to check with your provider to determine what procedures and treatments are included.
Choosing an Oral Surgeon for Dental Implants
If you are considering dental implants, there are numerous questions you will want to ask about preparation, surgery, and recovery, but do not forget to direct some toward your doctor specifically. It is okay, and expected, that you will want to know about the doctor’s experience and qualifications when it comes to implant dentistry.
Here are few questions to keep in mind when consulting with the surgeon:
What Type of Training Do You Have in Implant Dentistry?
Find out whether the doctor is board certified in oral and maxillofacial surgery or has any procedure-specific certifications. Board certification requires rigorous training and testing to verify the doctor’s knowledge and skills, and they are required to complete continuing education to maintain their certification. In addition, they are expected to adhere to high standards and ethics.
How Many Dental Implants Have You Placed?
Is this a surgery that they perform regularly and is a focus of their practice? Or is it something that they do only occasionally? You want to feel confident in your doctor’s experience and abilities, as well as their familiarity with the technology being used to facilitate surgery.
Do You Have Any Before and After Photos?
Many doctors maintain a gallery of images that show untouched before and after photos of the procedures they have performed. This can provide you with a more realistic sense of what to expect and what can be achieved with dental implants. You can see the types of results that others have experienced, and it may help you when deciding whether you want to move forward with dental implants.
Restore Your Smile with Dental Implants
A comprehensive consultation with an oral surgeon can help you determine whether dental implants are the right choice for you when it comes to transforming your smile and enhancing the function of your teeth. Arm yourself with any questions you may have so you can make a more informed decision.
If you are thinking about getting dental implants and want to know if you are a good candidate, schedule a consultation with Oral and Facial Surgery of Naperville or with an oral surgeon near you.