Losing teeth is never a cause for celebration, but take heart. There are many different options to replace missing teeth, many of which are virtually indistinguishable from your natural teeth. Perhaps the best of these—dental implants—function just like natural teeth while restoring your beautiful smile. How do dental implants work? Keep reading.

What are dental implants?

For the 120 million people in the U.S. who are missing one or more teeth, dental implants may be a good choice for you. These dental restorations consist of a titanium post that is topped with a dental crown to replace the natural tooth or teeth.

There are three different types of implants:

  1. Mini dental implants: Used to replace one tooth
  2. All-on-4 implants: Only four implants hold this full-mouth dental restoration in place
  3. Full mouth implants: Best for full mouth implants that require more stability

Your dentist can explain each option and answer any questions about which might be best for you.

How do dental implants work?

Dental implants consist of three parts:

  1. The implanted titanium post which resembles a screw
  2. The abutment that fits on top of the titanium post
  3. The dental crown (the artificial tooth that you see above the gumline)

The titanium post is actually embedded in the healthy bone of your jaw, which makes it feel and act like a sturdy natural tooth.

Although you have many different choices when it comes to dental restorations, dental implants come with some significant benefits.

  • Dental implants look like natural teeth: The dental crown topping the implant is custom-made to match your teeth and offers a very natural look
  • They improve bone health/density: When you chew on a dental implant, the action stimulates bone growth in the jaw
  • Dental implants are long-lasting: With proper care, dental implants can last two decades or more

Because of their stability and natural appearance, dental implants are good options for any area of your mouth, including the front teeth.

What happens during the dental implant procedure?

The dental implants procedure starts with a complete dental exam to identify any underlying oral health concerns. It is important to address and treat systemic issues that may have led to the need for your implants before, during, and after the implants are placed. This helps to ensure the success of the implant as well as proper and speedy healing.

Once your dentist establishes that you have adequate healthy bone to receive the implant, they will proceed. They first numb the area being worked on. If you have anxiety about dental procedures, your dentist may prescribe a sedative to take prior to your appointment, or they may have other options. The goal is your comfort during the procedure, so talk to your dentist if you are concerned.

After the anesthetic takes effect, your dentist will open the gum and drill a small hole in the jawbone. This is where the titanium post is screwed into the jaw. Your dentist will replace the gum and allow the implant to heal before a second surgery to attach the abutment and dental crown.

How long does a dental implant procedure take?

The dental implant timeline for both procedures varies from patient to patient and takes into account any underlying health concerns and the number of teeth replaced. If you are getting one dental implant in an otherwise healthy mouth, both the implant placement and receiving the abutment and dental crown should only take a couple hours total.

For more involved, full-mouth dental restorations or procedures that involve extraction, expect to spend more time at the dentist’s office.

What can I expect during recovery?

Dental implant recovery occurs in two phases. Generally, after the titanium post is placed, recovery takes between six and 12 months. Most of the recovery is occurring in the bone as it attaches itself to the implant, but this is crucial before the next step. Once the dental crown is placed, the healing period is shorter, as the second surgery is less extensive and just involves gum tissue (which is quick to heal).

Following some guidelines after dental implant surgery can speed healing and make you more comfortable.

  • Take time off after surgery: Give yourself at least 24 hours to fully rest
  • Control bleeding: Gauze and gentle pressure help
  • Manage pain: Follow your dentist’s instructions for prescription pain medications, then use ibuprofen as directed
  • Take comfort: Cold packs applied 15 minutes at a time can decrease swelling and provide pain relief as well
  • Don’t neglect oral health: Gently brush teeth in the evening after surgery, and rinse gently with saltwater once a day after 24 hours have passed
  • Mind your physical health: If you are prescribed antibiotics, take the whole course, and eat probiotic foods to help your belly stay healthy

Many people are concerned about eating after dental implant surgery, and that makes sense. After all, you need good nutrition to sustain you, but you want to take care around the implant site. Stick to soft foods for at least 24 hours, but resist the temptation to only eat pudding and ice cream. Nutritious foods like scrambled eggs, yogurt, tofu, and soft pasta are good choices. Avoid anything too salty, spicy, or hot, as this can irritate sensitive gum tissue.

As you recover, make sure to brush well, floss daily, and visit your dentist for regular check-ups twice yearly.

If you have more questions about the dental implants procedure or how dental implants work, AZ Dentist can help. We are a Phoenix dentist who is here to answer all of your questions. Get in touch today!