Dental implants have made a major difference in people’s lives by enabling them to chew and eat properly, as well as restore their self-esteem. Improvements in dental care are numerous in the last few decades; however, millions of Americans still lose teeth due to tooth decay, periodontal disease, or injury. For a long time, the only options available for people with missing teeth were bridges and dentures. Dental implant surgery has changed that by adding another viable option.

How dental implant surgery is done depends on the type of implant and the condition of your jawbone. Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry in Cary and Holly Springs offers dental implants to patients who need a permanent solution for missing or damaged teeth. In this article, we wanted to explain what is involved in dental implant surgery if you are considering it as an option.

What is a Dental Implant?

A dental implant is the replacement of a tooth root. An implant can provide a strong foundation for a fixed (permanent) tooth or removable replacement teeth (like dentures or a bridge). The implant is surgically placed in your jawbone, is made of titanium, and serves as the root of a missing or damaged tooth. The titanium fuses with your jawbone and, therefore, won’t slip, make noise, or cause bone damage. The materials are extremely strong and won’t decay like your own teeth that support regular bridgework can.

The Steps in Dental Implant Surgery

Dental implant surgery is usually an outpatient surgery that is performed in stages and includes healing time in between procedures. The entire process can take several months from start to finish. Most of the time is devoted to healing and waiting for the growth of new bone in your jaw.

The process of placing a dental implant involves multiple steps:

  • Planning
  • Damaged tooth removal
  • Jawbone preparation (grafting), if needed
  • Dental implant placement
  • Bone growth and healing
  • Abutment placement
  • Artificial tooth placement

Step 1: Planning

The planning process for a dental implant can involve several specialists, depending on your particular situation, including an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, a dentist specializing in treating structures that support the teeth such as gums and bones (periodontist), a dentist who designs and fits artificial teeth (prosthodontist), and sometimes an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.

Because the dental implant process requires one or more surgical procedures, you have a thorough evaluation to prepare for the process. You will have a:

  • Comprehensive dental exam – You will have dental X-rays and 3D images taken and models of your teeth and jaw made.
  • Review of your medical history – You will need to tell your doctor about any medical conditions and the medications you take, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs and supplements. If you have certain heart conditions or orthopedic implants, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics before surgery to help prevent infection.
  • Treatment plan – Your doctor will outline a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual situation, taking into account factors such as the number of teeth you need replaced and the condition of your jawbone and remaining teeth. This plan involves a team of professionals who provide coordinated care based on the implant option that is best for you.

Anesthesia Options

To control the pain, options for anesthesia during surgery include local anesthesia, sedation, or general anesthesia. You and your dental specialist will make this decision together. Based on the option you choose, your dental care team will instruct you about eating and drinking before surgery. If you are having sedation or general anesthesia, plan on someone taking you home after surgery and expect to rest that day.

Step 2: Placing the Dental Implant (Tooth Root)

The tooth root is a small titanium post that is placed into the bone socket of the missing tooth. Your oral surgeon makes a cut to open your gum and expose the bone. Holes are drilled into the bone where the metal post will be placed deep into the bone. As the jawbone heals, it grows around the implanted metal post which anchors securely in the jaw. This healing time can take six weeks or several months.

Optional Step: Bone Graft

You may need bone grafting at this point if your jawbone isn’t thick enough or is too soft to hold the post. As you chew, a great deal of pressure is exerted on the bone, so it must be able to support the implant. A bone graft creates a sturdy solid base for the implant.

There are several options for bone graft materials, such as a natural bone graft using bone from another location in your body or a synthetic bone graft using a bone-substitute material that is strong enough to support structures for new bone growth. Your doctor will advise you on options that are right for you.

It may take several months for the bone graft to generate and grow enough new bone to support a dental implant. The amount of time required depends on whether your graft is minor or more significant. The condition of your jawbone will determine this.

Step 3: Attaching the Abutment

Once the implant has bonded to the jawbone, a small connector post, called an abutment, is attached to the implanted root post. The abutment will hold the new tooth securely. This is typically done with local anesthesia in an outpatient setting. To place the abutment, your oral surgeon reopens your gum to expose the dental implant, attaches the abutment to the dental implant, and closes the gum tissue around (but not over) the abutment.

Sometimes the abutment is attached at the same time the implant is put in. Part of the abutment is visible above the gum line until the prosthetic tooth is attached. If you don’t like that, you can choose to have the abutment placed in a separate procedure, closer to when the artificial tooth is put in. Usually, it takes about two weeks for your gums to heal before the tooth is attached.

Step 4: Making and Attaching the Artificial Tooth

After your gums heal, the doctor will make more impressions of your mouth and remaining teeth in order to make the crown. The crown can’t be installed until your jawbone is strong enough to support the use of the new tooth. Your dentist will match the color of the new teeth to your natural teeth. The replacement tooth will look, feel, and function just like your own natural tooth. You can choose artificial teeth that are removable, fixed, or a combination of both.

Removable – A removable tooth/teeth is similar to a conventional removable denture. It contains artificial teeth surrounded by pink plastic gum. It’s mounted on a metal frame that’s attached to the implant abutment and snaps securely into place, and can be easily removed for daily cleaning.

Fixed – A fixed tooth is permanently screwed or cemented onto an individual implant abutment. Typically, one crown is attached to its own dental implant; however, due to the strength of implants, several teeth can be replaced by one implant if they are bridged together.

Step 5: After the Procedure

You may experience some of the typical discomforts associated with any type of dental surgery. You might have:

  • Swelling of your gums and face
  • Bruising of your skin and gums
  • Pain at the implant site
  • Minor bleeding

Your oral surgeon may prescribe pain medications or antibiotics afterwards. If you have swelling or discomfort that gets worse in the days after surgery, you should contact your surgeon.

After each stage of the process, it is best to eat soft foods while the surgical site is healing. Most doctors use stitches that dissolve on their own. If yours are not self-dissolving, your doctor will remove them.

Step 6: Taking Care of Your Dental Implant

Most dental implants are successful. Yet, sometimes, the bone fails to fuse sufficiently to the metal implant. If the bone fails to fuse, the implant is removed. Your doctor will clean up the bone and will try the procedure again after about three months.

You can help your dental work last longer if you practice excellent oral hygiene, see your dentist regularly, and avoid damaging habits. Actions that harm crowns and your natural teeth like chewing hard candy or ice break crowns. Avoid tooth-staining tobacco and caffeine products. Get the proper treatment if you grind your teeth.

Contact Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry for Dental Implants

We offer dental implants at both our Cary and Holly Springs locations. Reach us at our Holly Springs dentist office at (919)-600-6262 and our Cary dentist office at (919) 467-2203. You can also fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.