Dental implants are artificial tooth roots used to support a restoration for a missing tooth or teeth, helping to stop or prevent bone loss in the jaw. The dental implant procedure is categorized as a form of prosthetic (artificial replacement) dentistry, but is also considered a form of cosmetic dentistry.
People who have lost teeth might feel too self-conscious to smile or talk. Additionally, biting irregularities caused by tooth loss can have a negative effect on eating habits, leading to secondary health problems like malnutrition.
By replacing missing tooth roots, dental implants provide people with the strength and stability required to eat all the foods they love, without struggling to chew. Additionally, dental implants stimulate and maintain bone in the jaw, preventing bone loss and helping to maintain facial features.
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To determine whether implants are right for you, a consultation with Dr. Cherry will be needed. During this appointment, Dr. Cherry will thoroughly examine your teeth and gums and evaluate bone density and quantity. This may involve X-rays and computer tomography scans (CT scans) to ensure there is sufficient bone structure for placing the implant or implants, and to determine exactly where they should be placed.
Based on the condition of your oral tissues, oral hygiene and personal habits, and on your commitment to follow aftercare instructions, Dr. Cherry will advise you of the most appropriate dental implant treatment plan. Some patients with insufficient bone or gum tissue require bone or soft-tissue grafts and/or the use of small-diameter implants (also called mini-implants).
Depending on your situation, Dr. Cherry will advise you as to how long the entire treatment process will take, how many appointments will be necessary and what you can expect after each procedure. During the consultation, you and he will discuss options for local anesthesia (to numb the affected and surrounding areas) and sedation dentistry, if necessary.
Today’s dental implant restorations are virtually indistinguishable from other teeth. This appearance is aided in part by the structural and functional connection between the dental implant and the living bone. Implants are typically placed in a single sitting but then require a period of osseointegration.
Osseointegration is the process by which the dental implant anchors to the jawbone. Osseointegrated implants are the most commonly used and successful type of dental implant. An osseointegrated implant takes anywhere from three to six months to anchor and heal, at which point your dentist can complete the procedure by placing a crown restoration. If osseointegration does not occur, the implant will fail.
Dental implantation, which is performed to replace missing teeth, can be done any time after adolescence or when bone growth is complete. Certain medical conditions – such as active diabetes, cancer or periodontal disease – may require additional treatment before the implant procedure can be performed.
Preparing the Jaw for Implantation
A dental implant restoration is commonly composed of a titanium screw and a crown. A small-diameter hole (pilot hole) is drilled at the edentulous jaw site (the site that is lacking its natural tooth) in order to guide the titanium screw that will hold the dental implant in place. To avoid damaging vital jaw and face structures, such as the inferior alveolar nerve in the mandible (lower jaw), a dentist must use great skill and expertise when boring the pilot hole and sizing the jawbone. In many instances dentists use surgical guides created on the basis of the CT scans when placing the dental implants.
Placement of the Implant
After the initial pilot hole has been drilled into the appropriate jaw site, the hole is slowly widened to allow placement of the implant screw. Once the implant is in place, surrounding gum tissue is secured over the implant; and a protective cover screw is placed on top to allow the site to heal and osseointegration to occur. Your dentist will uncover the implant after you have been healing for up to six months, and attach an abutment (which holds the crown or toothlike replacement) to the implant. In some cases, the abutment may be attached during the initial procedure. When the abutment is in place, your dentist will create a temporary crown. The temporary crown serves as a template around which the gum grows and shapes itself in a natural way. The process is completed when the temporary crown is replaced with a permanent crown.
Temporary Anchorage Devices (TADs)
These devices are temporary small-diameter implants that aid your orthodontist in achieving your perfect smile faster and more predictably. When straightening your teeth, your orthodontist can utilize these temporary anchorage devices to prevent placing undue stress and pressure on other teeth while correcting your smile. The anchorage devices are strategically placed between your roots and removed after completion of orthodontics.
By inserting small screws within the mouth to act as anchors for braces and wires, Dr. Cherry uses TADs to assist the orthodontist in moving teeth in ways not possible with braces alone.
Part of making the dental implant surgery successful is to follow Dr. Cherry’s orders for postoperative care. After your dental implants have been inserted, you will be given painkillers and antibiotics, including an antibiotic oral rinse – you need to follow all the specific instructions on how to use both the anesthetic and the oral rinse.
Following surgery, you will be asked to bite firmly but gently on a gauze pad to stop the bleeding. Dr. Cherry will give you a package of gauze pads to take home with you and place over the surgical site. You’ll have to make sure to change the pads and to use them until the bleeding stops completely. Sometimes biting on a moist tea bag will be prescribed as well. You’ll need to call Dr. Cherry if bleeding persists or increases.
If you have some discomfort after the surgery, you will be given a painkiller. You can also decrease discomfort and swelling by applying an ice pack for about twenty minutes per hour, for the first six hours following surgery. You can continue applying an ice pack during as much as two days following surgery. After two days, apply moist heat to the area, such as a tea bag.
In order to minimize swelling and bleeding, you may want to keep your head elevated for the first 24–48 hours after the surgery. You have to make sure you relax as much as possible and avoid all strenuous activities for as long as three days following the dental implant surgery.
You’ll have to drink at least eight glasses of water or fruit juice every day, and try to limit your diet to soft foods such as yogurt or soup during the first week after surgery.
You will be asked to rinse your mouth with warm saltwater solution – one teaspoon of salt in one cup of water – about three to four times a day to further disinfect the area. You’ll have to make sure you spit carefully to avoid any complications to the surgical site.
Once your jaw bone grows around the titanium posts, you may experience a little discomfort around the area for as much as several weeks. An over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Motrin® or Tylenol®, should alleviate the pain.
Risks & Side Effects
Like any surgery, dental implant surgery poses some health risks. Problems are rare, though; and when they do occur, they’re usually minor and easily treated.