Dental implants can help transform not only your smile but your quality of life, allowing you to enjoy all sorts of foods you couldn’t without them while giving you the security and comfort you deserve. Getting dental implants, though, can be a long process taking place over several months and can include a surgical jawbone procedure depending on the condition of your jaw and gums.
One of the reasons dental implants take a long time to heal is because between each procedure, there are several healing stages your mouth must go through before moving onto the next stage. Although the long healing process can be frustrating, It’s important to let your mouth heal properly so that your dental implants will be able to function like natural teeth.
What are Dental Implants?
To understand the process of getting dental implants, it’s important to first understand what dental implants are. Dental implants are artificial teeth that have a metal screw-like post that is placed in the tooth root and topped with a custom made crown. A connector, also called an abutment, is built into the post and connects the post to the crown. The post will fuse with your jaw over time, allowing the dental implant to act like a natural tooth.
In some cases, you may need to have a bone graft done if your jawbone isn’t thick enough to support the dental implant post. Dr. Shim will be able to determine whether or not you will need a bone graft during the initial consultation. If you do need a bone graft, your healing stages for your dental implant will take a little bit longer than usual.
To be considered an ideal candidate for a dental implant, you must:
- Be in good general and oral health
- Have enough bone to support the implant in your jaw – even if you need a bone graft, it’s important the base jaw structure is strong enough
- Have healthy gum tissues
Children are not able to get a dental implant until they’ve stopped growing as the jaw bone is still changing. You may also not be a good candidate for a dental implant if you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, as it can make the healing process more difficult.
Dental Implant Healing Stages
The process of getting a dental implant has three main healing stages but each patient is different, and your timeline may vary based on if you need a bone graft. Dr. Shim will be able to assess and give you a more accurate overview of the process.
The following healing stages are based on a single dental implant with a bone graft, which many patients may be required to have as having a strong foundation is critical to getting a successful dental implant. Those who do not require a bone graft will have a shorter healing timeline, as they will not have to wait for the bone graft to heal.
If you are having multiple teeth replaced or a full mouth procedure, the healing stages will be similar but may be longer depending on what work needs to be completed.
Pre-stage: Full evaluation
Before your implant process begins, Dr. Shim will do a full examination to determine the condition of your jawbone and the best way to proceed. He will take x-rays, impressions, and match the color of your teeth in order to make sure your implant looks like your original tooth.
During this time, you will want to disclose all medications and conditions. Occasionally, you may need to take antibiotics before surgery to avoid infection. Once you are considered healthy enough for the procedure, the first stage of your dental implant surgery will be scheduled.
Stage one: tooth extraction & bone grafting
In the case that your jawbone isn’t strong enough to hold the implant, you will have a bone graft done before the dental implant is placed.
Bone grafting is a common procedure that is usually done with local anesthetic. If you are uncomfortable with the surgery, speak to the doctor about having an IV sedation instead. In either case, you shouldn’t feel any pain or discomfort.
During the bone graft, a small incision will be created in the gum to show the jawbone. Once cleaned, Dr. Shim adds bone grafting material to strengthen the jawbone and then the bone is covered with a membrane for protection. The gum is then placed back and closed with stitches.
Before your implant is placed, your mouth must first heal from the bone graft in order to have a strong surface. The healing time for a bone graft can be up to four months.
If you still have a tooth that needs to be extracted, Dr. Shim will remove it before the implant is put in. Typically, local anesthesia is used to numb the area around the tooth so you shouldn’t feel any pain as it’s extracted.
Healing time for a tooth extraction takes between 1-2 weeks. During this time, it’s important to follow all instructions given to you, including eating soft food and taking over-the-counter pain medication as needed.
Stage two: placing the implant
After your gums have healed from a tooth extraction or bone grafting, your implant and abutment will be placed into the jawbone. Similar to a bone graft, Dr. Shim will make a cut into the gum where the missing tooth is and place the implant post into that spot. Then, the gum is covered up and stitched. Over time, the jawbone will grow around the implant in a process called osseointegration, where the implant fuses with the bone.
For most patients, the healing period between having the implant first placed and getting your permanent crown is between 2 to 6 months. However, it may take longer depending on how fast your body accepts the implant. You may feel some discomfort as the implant takes to the jawbone, but you can alleviate this with over-the-counter medication. If the discomfort continues, it’s important to contact Dr. Shim to make sure your implant is healing correctly.
Stage three: temporary abutment placement
The second to last stage of getting your dental implant is having the abutment placed onto the post once your gums have healed from the initial implant placement. Depending on the procedure, you may have the abutment placed when the implant is done or in a separate procedure.
During this appointment, your gum will be opened so there’s access to place the abutment to the post. This abutment may be a temporary one while your gums heal around it. You will receive a permanent one in the final stage, after impressions have been taken.
If you are having the abutment done at a separate appointment from the initial implant being placed, it typically takes an additional4 to 6 weeks for the gums around the abutment to heal.
Stage four: permanent abutment and crown
The final healing stage of getting your implant is having your permanent abutment and crown placed. Impressions of your teeth will be completed and a crown will be made from them. When the crown is ready, it will be placed on the permanent abutment. The crown will act as a natural tooth and you will be able to return to life as normal.
How to Care for Your Dental Implants During the Healing Stages
During the healing stages, Dr. Shim will give you specific instructions on how to properly care for your mouth. This may include rinsing with warm salt water and avoiding brushing and flossing the area around the implant and abutment directly. If you need to take antibiotics, take them as directed to avoid infection.
As you heal, you may experience some bruising, swelling, and discomfort around the implant site. To help with the pain, it is advised to eat soft foods, such as mashed potatoes and soups, and take over-the-counter medications.
Once your implant has fully healed and your permanent crown has been placed, caring for your dental implants is straightforward. You should practice good oral hygiene, including flossing and brushing, as you would your natural teeth. While dental implants can’t decay like natural teeth, they can be subject to periodontal disease so it’s important to keep up with excellent dental care.