The first step for getting dental implants is a consultation with a dentist who is qualified to do implant surgery. During the consultation, the dentist may use x-rays or a 3D CAT scan to determine the treatment plan that will be needed to replace your missing tooth or teeth. If your tooth or teeth have recently been extracted, the implant may be able to be done shortly after the extraction or loss, or the area may need to heal before the implant can be performed.
A dental implant which replaces one tooth has three parts:
- A titanium screw or cylinder that is imbedded in your jawbone
- An abutment which protrudes above the gum line to hold the artificial tooth
- The crown which looks, feels and functions like a normal tooth
If dental implants are being used to secure a bridge, partial dentures or full dentures, these structures are secured to the abutment as well. Depending on the bridge or partial, more than one implant may be needed to secure the prosthesis and when a full denture is involved, four or more implants are usually required.
Once you are determined to be a good candidate for dental implants and a treatment plan is created, your jaw is prepared for the implantation. An incision is made in your gum tissue to expose the bone where the implant will be placed. If your dentist had predetermined that bone grafting needed to be done to prepare your bone for the implant, the grafting would first be done. Once sufficient bone structure has been established, the bone has to be prepared to accept the implant.
Since a dental implant is either a titanium screw or cylinder that is placed in your jawbone, a small hole is drilled into your bone at the place where the screw or cylinder will be inserted. This procedure is done in your dentist's office with local anesthetic. Once the hole is drilled, it is carefully widened to the appropriate size for holding the implant screw. The screw or cylinder is then placed into your jawbone and either a 'healing abutment,' which pokes up through the gum tissue or a 'cover screw' which is flush with your gum surface, is placed.
When the titanium screw or cylinder has been placed in your bone, a process called osseointegration begins where the implant actually becomes a part of your jaw. This process can take from three to six months depending on your individual health and bone quality and density. When your bone and gum tissue are healed and the osseointegration has taken place, an 'abutment' (or post) which will support your tooth, bridge or dentures, is placed. If a cover screw was used in the initial process, once healing has taken place, an incision will need to be made in order to secure the abutment to the implant.
If you are replacing one tooth, the crown will be secured onto the abutment and will look, feel and function just like a normal tooth. If implants are being used to secure bridges, partials or dentures, the framework for the dental prosthesis will be designed with attachments that will fit securely onto the implant. Full and partial dentures that are implant supported can be easily removed for cleaning.
While there is some discomfort as your jawbone heals, implant surgery which is done by a dentist experienced in the process, is not painful. And the long-term benefits are many: good oral health, comfort, improved appearance, the integrity of your facial structure is not compromised from missing teeth and implanted teeth or implant-supported bridges, partials or dentures look, feel and function like natural teeth.