If you need to replace a tooth for any reason, a dental implant is usually the best option. Whatever the reason, whether your tooth is missing, severely decayed, or broken beyond repair, a dental implant is the closest thing to a natural tooth you can get.
Wondering what a dental implant entails and whether or not it is right for you? Consider this step by step guide to help you understand the ins and outs of dental implants.
Step 1: Consultation
The first thing to do is schedule a consultation with your dentist to determine if you are an ideal candidate for a dental implant. The dentist will evaluate your oral health and the bone density in your jaw first. It is necessary to have sufficient bone to hold the implant in place, otherwise it may not be successful. When a tooth is lost the part of the jaw that held the tooth in place will begin to weaken and eventually resorb (dissolve). The longer a tooth is missing without replacement the weaker the jaw bone will be. If there is not sufficient bone to support an implant, a bone graft procedure will be necessary.
Another factor the dentist will consider is whether or not you may need a sinus lift. If the implant is to be placed in the upper jaw it is important to make sure the bone is thick enough for the implant root to go in without puncturing the sinus. If there is any concern that the bone is not thick enough, a sinus lift will need to be performed.
Step 2: Bone Graft or Sinus Lift (Only if Needed)
If a bone graft procedure is needed, this will need to be done first. Bone grafting involves opening up the gums, placing a piece of artificial or sterilized animal bone over the jaw bone, and suturing the gum tissue back into place over it. The bone graft will bond with the existing bone and help to regenerate bone growth in the area where the dental implant will eventually be placed.
During a sinus lift, similar to a bone graft, an artificial bone or a sterilized animal bone will be placed under the gums to increase the total bone material and lift the sinus to make room for the implant.
Bone graft and sinus lift procedures are most often successful, making it possible to continue with the process of placing an implant.
Step 3: Placing the Implant Root
The first step in the placement procedure is to surgically implant the artificial tooth root. This looks like a screw that is surgically implanted in the jaw bone. The gum tissue is opened, the root is placed, and the gum tissue is sutured back over the top. It eventually fuses with the bone for a secure hold that will likely last for a lifetime. The implant root can take some time to fuse with the bone, so there may be a few weeks time before the next step.
Step 4: Attaching the Abutment
Once the root is secure, the abutment is placed. The abutment is the piece that the crown will eventually attach to. This step will require the gums to be reopened in order to attach it to the implant root. The abutment will be given time to heal (usually a few weeks) before the permanent crown is placed. The crown will be created during this time so that it is ready for permanent placement once the tissue around the abutment has healed.
Step 5: Placing the Crown
The final step is the placing of the permanent crown. The crown is usually made of porcelain that is designed to match the color and shape of your existing teeth for a natural look and function. Porcelain is the most common choice for permanent crowns because it closely resembles natural tooth material.
A Permanent Solution
When a dental implant is carefully placed by an experienced dentist it can last a lifetime. As long as the proper preparation, procedure, and follow-up steps are completed, your dental implant should look and function just like your other natural teeth. After a few weeks or even a few days you may not even realize it is there.