Choosing dental implants to replace lost teeth means starting a journey of several months. Implants last a long time but they also take a long time to set correctly. After initial exams to assess gum and bone health and density, a dental team of specialists -- including a dentist, surgeon, periodontist and restorative dentist or prosthodontist -- will set a surgical and care plan based on a person's overall oral health and tooth replacement needs.
If bone health and thickness, or density, is sufficient to go ahead with the procedure, surgery can start. In cases where gum tissue health or bone density are lacking, further steps toward periodontal care or bone grafting may be necessary before starting the process. (We'll look at bone-building options later.) Because dental implantation is a surgical procedure, it's also important for individuals to be in good physical health.
A first step in getting implants is having the surgeon cut into the gum tissue to expose the bones underneath. Patients will of course have the area completely numbed to eliminate most or all pain during the procedure. (Types of anesthesia will vary from general anesthesia to localized numbing treatments like Novocain.) Then a hole is drilled into the jawbone, and the screw-shaped titanium implant is inserted into the bone. Implants are sized to fit the tooth opening and scaled for a person's mouth and jawbone thickness, and extend just above the top of the bone [source: Mayo Clinic].
After the implant is inserted, it needs to be left in place so the bone will fuse with it in a process called osseointegration. Gum tissue will be stitched up at the incision site and will need time to heal and tighten around the implant site, which is why it's important that the gums are healthy before surgery. All of this healing and fusing can take three to nine months or more, during which time the patient typically wears a temporary cosmetic overlay or partial denture in place of permanent teeth [sources: ADA; JADA; Mayo Clinic].
According to Dr. Ira Cheifetz, former president of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, this bone growth and healing continues long after the implant is complete because the screw in your jawbone tricks the body into thinking you still have teeth [source: Alderman].
Although the bone-drilling is complete, there may be some more cutting before getting new teeth. We'll discuss that next.