Dental implants are an effective solution for missing teeth, and with good care they can last a lifetime. Preparing for dental surgery is the first step in dental implant care. Once the implants have been fitted, brushing and flossing and regular dental visits keep them looking good. Implants can replace a single tooth, a row of teeth or an entire set of upper and lower jaw teeth.
What Are Dental Implants?
Dental implants replace the roots of teeth as well as the crowns, which helps prolong the life of remaining natural teeth around them, and maintains jaw bone support. A single tooth implant consists of two parts: a post that sits in the jaw bone and a replacement false tooth that’s attached to the post. If the implants are replacing a row or set of teeth, the false teeth are anchored to several posts in the jaw. The dentist fits the posts in the jaw bone surgically, and when the bone has healed around the posts he attaches the replacement teeth. Sometimes, posts and teeth can be fitted in one visit.
Careful preparation for dental implant surgery increases the chances of a successful outcome. Creighton University School of Dentistry offers some tips to help prepare for implant surgery:
- When scheduling surgery, tell your dentist if you take other medications, such as blood thinners. Your prescribing physician may need to alter your dose in preparation for the operation.
- Painkillers and antibiotics given prior to surgery can help to reduce your discomfort and risk of infection. Ask your dentist about medications you can take before surgery.
- If you’re nervous or stressed by the prospect of surgery, talk to your dentist. He may be able to offer intravenous sedation if it’s suitable in your case.
After surgery to fit dental implant posts in the jaw bone, the patient takes a day or two to recover. Swelling and discomfort for the first 24 hours are normal. Driving home alone after the operation is not advised, especially if the patient has been sedated. The University of Washington School of Dentistry gives further comprehensive advice on what to do after implant surgery.
- Bite on sponges that were placed in your mouth to control bleeding for at least one hour, and up to three hours.
- Sit with your head elevated and avoid moving excessively for eight to 12 hours.
- Hold an ice pack to your face at the surgery site for 15 minutes, then remove it for 15 minutes. Repeat as needed throughout the day to reduce swelling.
- Eat and drink only soft foods and liquids for the first 48 hours after surgery.
- Take all prescribed medicines as your dentist has directed.
- For the first 24 hours, don’t rinse your mouth. Then, after meals, gently rinse your mouth with warm salt water. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in one glass of warm water.
The University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics estimates that initial healing from dental implant surgery takes seven to 10 days.
As You Heal
The gums and jaw bone can take up to nine months or as little as six weeks to heal and adjust to the implant posts after surgery. The patient may experience soreness in their gums for several weeks. A diet of soft foods, cold foods and warm soup helps reduce discomfort. If the patient normally wears dental restorations that sit on the gum, the dentist can advise on when it’s safe to use them.
Caring for dental implants continues long after the dentist fits them, as the Creighton University School of Dentistry explains. Brushing, flossing, rinsing and a schedule of regular dentist visits are essential to maintain the implants’ appearance and reduce the chances of failure. The patient can use the toothpaste, toothbrush and floss used for natural teeth to clean dental implants. At six-month visits, the dentist X-rays the implants to check for bone loss around the posts, which is an early sign of failure. He also checks the health of the gums, and uses specialized instruments to clean the implants.
It can take a while for patients to see the final results from dental implant surgery, but the time and inconvenience are worth it. Dental implant care is similar to caring for natural teeth, and the two are difficult to tell apart. When properly cared for, the patient can look forward to decades of healthy teeth and confident smiles.