Major dental procedures can be daunting, particularly when you have a dental phobia. In this guide, we’ll discuss everything that’s involved in getting dental implants so that you can make an informed decision about your dental care.
Despite continuous advancements in dental care, tooth loss can still occur as a result of decay, trauma, periodontal disease, and infection. When you lose a tooth or several teeth, there are a few options available to you to replace these. One option is to have dental implants to support a crown, bridge, or dentures.
Your natural teeth have two parts:
- The crown – This visible portion sits above the gum line
- The root – Beneath the gums, the root is anchored to the jaw
Ordinarily, when you replace a tooth with a prosthetic appliance such as a denture or a bridge, it is only the visible portion of the tooth that is replaced. Dental implants serve to replace the root of your teeth.
A dental implant consists of a lightweight biocompatible titanium screw that is used in place of your tooth’s natural root. This fuses with your jaw bone in a process called osseointegration. Once the dental implant is firmly in place, an abutment is put into position onto which a realistic dental crown is fitted.
Having dental implants involves a surgical procedure that is carried out in multiple stages over the course of several months. For many, dental implants are the next best thing to their natural teeth.
The Benefits of Dental Implants
The benefits of dental implants are as follows:
- Improved stability – Dental implants provide support for replacement crowns with a greater degree of stability than dental bridges can achieve. This means that once placed, you can enjoy the full and natural function of your teeth once more.
- Better speech – An alternative to dental implants is to wear dentures. As traditional dentures are not fixed into place, they can come loose, affecting your speech. Implants let you speak with confidence, knowing that your teeth will not move.
- Natural appearance – On top of your dental implant, a realistic crown will be placed. This will be colour-matched to your teeth and will be made from a material that perfectly mimics the appearance of your natural teeth.
- More confidence chewing – Dental implants provide a rigid bond between tooth and jaw meaning you can chew with a greater degree of confidence knowing that prosthetic teeth will withstand the pressure.
- Convenience – Once your dental implants are in place, there’s no need to take them out for any reason, meaning you can just get on with your life without worrying too much about them.
- Self-esteem boosting – When you have implants, they can restore your confidence and make you feel better about the appearance of your smile.
- Durable – Once you’ve been through the procedure, your new implants should last a lifetime provided you take care of them.
The Different Types of Dental Implants
Dental implants have existed for thousands of years, however, it wasn’t until as recently as the 1960s that the techniques and materials used today became standard practice. Since adopting titanium as the material of choice, several different types of implant have been developed.
The most common way of replacing a single tooth is using an endosteal implant. This type of implant is placed directly into your jaw, where it will fuse with the bone to provide the greatest degree of support to the replacement tooth it is to hold.
Endosteal implants require a jawbone that is fully grown, has adequate density, and hasn’t resorbed following the loss of a tooth. If your initial x-rays demonstrate that your jaw lacks sufficient density, a bone graft may be required. Alternatively, your dentist may suggest that you have subperiosteal or zygomatic implants instead.
An endosteal implant consists of a single titanium pillar or screw. If several teeth are being replaced, more than one implant will be used.
Endosteal implants are reliant on you having a strong and healthy jawbone. Often, if you’ve had missing teeth for a prolonged period of time, the area of your jaw that your tooth’s root used to anchor to will will resorb and deteriorate.
If there is insufficient bone in your jaw and a graft or sinus lift is not possible, your dentist may suggest getting a subperiosteal implant. This type of implant is inserted into the gums but does not enter the jawbone. Subperiosteal implants instead sit on top of your jaw.
This type of implant consists of a lightweight framework made from titanium which is custom made to suit your mouth.
Where there is insufficient bone to support an endosteal implant, another option that may be explored is to have a zygomatic implant. These implants are longer than traditional endosteal appliances and are positioned diagonally into the zygoma (cheekbone) making use of the additional bone mass available there.
Zygomatic implants provide additional strength and stability meaning they can be used to hold larger structures such as implant-supported bridges without the need for a bone graft. The implants are positioned in such a way that they avoid the sinus. This means that a sinus lift will not be required either.
Traditional dental bridges consist of a pontic or replacement tooth cemented to crowns on either side. These crowns will usually sit on top of your natural teeth. If you need several replacement teeth in a row, it may be possible to use implants to support the teeth that hold the pontic in place.
Typically, one implant will be placed for each missing tooth and the crowns will all connect to form a single structure.
If you’re missing an entire arch of teeth, you may think that dentures are the only option open to you. Dentures have their limitations and many people are put off from wearing them as they worry that they will be ill-fitting and will affect their speech and ability to chew.
One option that may be a possibility is to have implant-retained dentures. If you’ve recently lost your teeth and your jaw is still in good health, your dentist may be able to place several implants into your jaw to hold a set of dentures in position.
As with traditional dentures, implant-retained dentures can be removed by unclipping them from the abutments.
These are sometimes referred to as snap-in dentures, overdentures, and implant-supported dentures.
Smile in a Day
One of the things that can put many potential candidates for dental implants off getting the surgery is the length of time that it takes for your jaw to remove between procedures.
Traditional endosteal-style implants can take several months to place, particularly if you need a bone graft first. Smile in a Day is an implant solution that offers immediate results.
This procedure places the implant into your jaw at a very specific angle to maximise bone availability. Typically, candidates having this procedure do not need to undergo lengthy bone graft or sinus lift procedures before they can have their implants. Even when zygomatic implants are needed, the procedure can still be carried out in just one day.
Four implants will be placed onto which a fixed bridge can be fitted. While your jaw will still need to fuse to the implants, it won’t take long before you can enjoy your favourite food again.
Smile in a Day is sometimes referred to as All-on-4, Teeth in a Day, and Same-Day Teeth.
The Dental Implant Procedure
Understanding the procedures involved in placing dental implants can help you manage your expectations and anxiety. Speak with your dentist if you have any concerns over any part of the procedure and they will be able to provide you with the support you need to continue.
The exact procedure for placing dental implants will vary depending on which type you choose to have.
Usually, the process will start with an initial consultation where your dentist will discuss the various options that are available to you. A physical examination of your teeth will be carried out and images will be taken of your jaw using an x-ray or a CT scanner. These images will be used to assess the quality and quantity of the bone in your jaw.
The next stage will be a surgical procedure during which you will be given a local anaesthetic. This will help numb the area that the dentist will be working on. If you’re nervous or have anxiety surrounding the procedure, other sedatives may be available.
If you require a tooth extraction, this will be done first. You may then need a bone graft to improve the density and rigidity of your jaw. There are three common types of graft associated with dental implant placement:
- Alveolar ridge preservation bone graft (also known as a socket graft)
- Sinus lift (also known as a subantral graft or sinus augmentation)
- Block bone graft (also known as autogenous ramus or chin graft)
The graft will rebuild the damaged bone using real or synthetic materials and can take between two to six months to heal.
In some instances, no bone graft will be necessary and your dentist will be able to place the implant immediately after the extraction of a damaged or decayed tooth. This is referred to as ‘immediate implant placement.’
If you’ve had a bone graft, you’ll be asked to attend a further appointment at a later date. During this appointment, the dentist will assess the site to make sure your jaw is ready to take the implant.
Initially, your dentist will make an incision in your gums through which they can gain access to your jaw. Once the gum is prepared, the dentist will drill into your gum to create a small hole for the implant. Next, the dental implant can be placed into position.
The implant will be capped, the gum closed up, and a temporary denture will be placed to cover the gap as the bone heals. During the healing process, the titanium implant will integrate with the bone. While this is happening, it’s important that no force, pressure, or stress is applied to the implant while the bone heals.
After the bone has fully healed, your dentist will test to ensure that the implant has been taken up by the jaw that surrounds it. Once the dentist is satisfied with the implant’s sturdiness, an abutment will be added to the implant to hold the replacement crown in place.
Your dentist will take an impression of your mouth so that the final crown can be custom-made. After this is ready, your dentist will finally place the crown.
Caring for Dental Implants
While your dental implant may be impervious to the effects of plaque bacteria, the surrounding gum and neighbouring teeth won’t be. It’s important to maintain a good standard of oral hygiene to ensure your implants and replacement crown continue to be effective for many years to come.
If you have single implants that support fixed crowns, you should treat these as you would your normal teeth. This means that you should brush them twice daily for two minutes at a time using fluoride toothpaste. Flossing between your teeth will also help minimise the risk of tooth decay and gum disease while rinsing your mouth using mouthwash will also help eliminate bacteria.
In addition to your daily oral health routine, you should also make regular visits to see your dentist for a check-up.
Dental Implant FAQs
Often, to address dental phobias, it’s important to ask the right questions. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about dental implants.
How do dental implants work?
Dental implants replace the root of your teeth using titanium screws, posts, and appliances that integrate into or onto your jaw. The implant supports an abutment and a crown, bridge, or denture which completes the restoration of your tooth.
Can anyone get dental implants?
To be considered to be a suitable candidate for dental implants, you will need to have a healthy jaw or be able to undergo a bone graft. If you have certain chronic health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes or are a heavy smoker, dental implants may not be a suitable option for you.
Your dentist will discuss your general health during the initial consultation.
How many teeth can be replaced using dental implants?
Dental implants can be used to hold a single crown in place, or they can support up to an entire row of teeth. The more teeth you have that need replacing, the more implants will be required to provide support.
What material is a dental implant made from?
Dental implants are generally made using titanium. This material has a high success rate, is biocompatible, and weighs very little.
Zirconia-based ceramic implants are also occasionally used as a bioinert non-metal alternative.
How successful are dental implants?
The success of a dental implant is largely dependent on the condition of the bone into which it is being placed. The success rate of the procedure is very high and it is seldom that osseointegration fails to occur.
What happens if the implant doesn’t fuse to the bone?
In the event that osseointegration fails and your jaw rejects the implant, your dentist may attempt to place it in a different position or offer an alternative restoration such as a bridge or dentures.
What are the alternatives to dental implants?
While there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to getting dental implants, if you’re looking for a less invasive treatment option, however, you may wish to consider bridges or dentures.
How much do dental implants cost?
On average in the United Kingdom, you can expect to pay roughly £2,500 for a dental implant, however, this price will depend on your personal circumstances and your choice of dental practice. Many dentists offer repayment plans to help spread the cost of expensive procedures.
While dental implants may be expensive, they will last for a lifetime providing you care for them.
Your dentist should provide you with a full costing for your dental implants once they have assessed your teeth and jaw and have created a treatment plan.
Can you get dental implants on the NHS?
Ordinarily, it is not possible to get dental implants on the NHS so you will need to pay for private treatment. In certain rare cases, however, it may be possible to get your dental implants on the NHS, for instance, if you’ve previously suffered from mouth cancer.
What can I do to reduce anxiety surrounding the dental implant procedure?
Due to the nature of the dental implant procedure, having some degree of anxiety is perfectly normal and is understandable.
Most dentists will have previously successfully placed many implants, and this number will rise even more if you opt to have the procedure carried out by an implant specialist. With this in mind, you’ll be in safe and qualified hands.
The first step in reducing anxiety should be to elect to have the procedure carried out by a dentist that is Dental Phobia Certified. Talk to your dentist about your fears and worries and they will be able to discuss ways of reducing your anxiety.
Consider making any appointments for the start of the day as this is often the quietest time in many dental practices. You may also want to bring a friend or family member along with you for moral support or wear noise cancelling headphones during the procedure.
Finally, ask your dentist what sedation options are available to you. Many practices are equipped to deliver injection-free sedation to completely relax you throughout the duration of your procedure.
Why do I need a dental implant?
If you’ve lost one or more teeth through trauma or decay, you may want to have dental implants to provide support for a replacement crown, bridge, or dentures.
How long does recovery take following the dental implant procedure?
The exact length of time it takes to recover following the implant procedure varies depending on whether a bone graft was required, the position of the implant, and your bodies own natural healing ability. Osseointegration can take approximately six months.
Does having dental implants affect your speech?
No. If anything, dental implants will improve your speech, especially when compared with alternative prosthetic devices such as dentures.
What are the risks associated with having dental implants?
Dental implants carry few risks and have a very high success rate, however, in rare cases the following issues or side effects may present themselves:
- Nerve damage – symptoms of which may include a tingling sensation or numbness
- Damage to your blood vessels
- Damage to neighbouring teeth
- Sinus issues – this affects implants placed in your upper jaw
- Movement of the implant before osseointegration occurs
Is having a dental implant painful?
During the procedure itself, you will be placed under local anaesthesia meaning the area where the implant is being placed will be numbed. Following your procedure, it is normal to experience some swelling and discomfort, however, this can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain medication.
What can I eat following the dental implant procedure?
For some time after your procedure, the area around your new dental implant will be sensitive. During this time, you should stick to eating soft food such as soup or anything that doesn’t require considerable chewing.
As the swelling and sensitivity subsides, you will be able to your favourite food again.
What questions should I ask my dentist before getting a dental implant?
Learning to care for your dental implants is important, so asking for hygiene advice from your dentist can help you learn how you can reduce any later complications.