Dental implants are an artificial replacement for a tooth’s root. They fit directly into your jawbone and hold crowns or false teeth in place, in the same way that roots support natural teeth.
If you look after your teeth and implants properly, they can last for the rest of your life.
Dental implants are usually made of titanium and have an internal screw called an abutment that holds a false tooth (or teeth) in place.
A single dental implant can support one, or several, replacement teeth – you don’t need to have one implant per replacement tooth. How many you need will depend on how many teeth you need to replace and how strong your jawbone is in these areas. If you need to replace all your teeth, you’ll probably need to have at least six implants in your upper jaw, and between four and six in your lower jaw. It’s possible they can all be fitted in the same procedure. But your dentist will discuss this with you, and whether it’s best to do them in a few different sessions.
Dental implant surgery involves having at least one operation. You need to have healthy gums and your jawbone needs to be strong enough to hold the implants.
Some dentists won’t insert dental implants if you smoke, as it can affect how well the treatment works. Implants are also less likely to work if you’ve had radiotherapy. Some medical conditions, such as diabetes or osteoporosis, might affect how well implants work but more research is needed to know for sure. It’s possible that your dentist might not recommend you have implants if you have either of these conditions. Your dentist will let you know if implants are an option for you.
Your dentist will talk to you about what will happen before, during, and after the procedure, and any pain you might have. It’s really important that you understand what to expect so you can decide whether to go ahead. Your dentist should go through the risks as well as the benefits. Think about any questions you want to ask – maybe write them down in advance so you don’t forget. If you decide to go ahead with the procedure, you’ll be asked to sign a consent form so you need to know what’s involved.
It’s important that the dentist who does your procedure has training in placing implants. They should reach standards that have been approved by the General Dental Council. Don’t be afraid to ask your dentist how much experience they have.
Dental implants are not the only options available and this will be discussed in more details before proceeding with implant surgery. These options include:
- removable dentures (false teeth) – plastic or metal frameworks that hold false teeth
- a bridge – false teeth that are fixed onto your adjacent natural teeth
If you decide to go ahead with implants, you’ll probably be asked to have some X-rays. This is so your dentist can check the shape of your jawbone and where it’s best to place the implant. These will also show the position of other structures in your mouth, such as your nerves. You may need to have a CT scan if the X-rays don’t provide enough information.
Most people have dental implant surgery under local anaesthesia. This completely blocks pain from your mouth and you’ll stay awake during the procedure. You may also have a sedative – this relieves anxiety and helps you to relax. Alternatively, you may need to go into hospital and have treatment under general anaesthesia, which means you’ll be asleep during the procedure. But this is rare.
How long your procedure will take will depend on how many implants you’re having and how complicated the procedure is. It’s possible to have several implants fitted in the same procedure, and this will naturally take longer. If you’re just having one implant fitted in an immediate implant procedure (see below), it should take about half an hour.
Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your dentist will make a cut in your gum and drill a small hole in your jawbone. The implant will fit into this hole.
There are then a few options on what your dentist can do next.
- Option 1 – fitting immediately. If you’re having any teeth removed before dental implant surgery, your dentist may be able to put an implant straight into your tooth socket.
- Option 2 – fitting after a short period. If it isn’t possible to immediately place the implant, your dentist will fit the implant in a second procedure, after a few weeks.
- Option 3 – fitting after a longer period. Your dentist may fit a dental implant after several months, once your jawbone has had time to heal.
Dental implants have an internal screw called an abutment that holds a false tooth (or teeth) in place. Your dentist can fit the implant and the abutment in one or two stages.
- In one-stage treatment, the implant rod and the abutment that attaches the implant to the false tooth, or teeth, are fitted at the same time.
- In two-stage treatment, the implant rod will be buried under your gum while your bone heals (you won’t see it in your mouth). You’ll have another operation a few months later to attach the abutment.
Your dentist may attach artificial teeth on the same day that you have the implant. But you may need to wait between three and six months to allow your mouth to heal. During this time, you might need to have a temporary bridge or partial dentures so you can’t see the spaces between your teeth. If you usually wear complete dentures, they can be adjusted so that you can wear them during this healing period.
After your mouth has healed, you’ll have another operation to uncover your gum over the top of the implant. Your dentist will then fit your artificial tooth or teeth onto the implant. The teeth may be fixed in place or you may be able to remove them when you need to clean them. Your dentist will make sure that they fit properly, match your other teeth and feel comfortable.