A dental implant is a dental procedure to replace a missing tooth. Unlike dentures, which are false teeth that you can easily remove, dental implants are placed in your jawbone in a series of minor operations.
What are dental implants?
A dental implant is a piece of metal that looks like a screw and is put into the jaw where the missing tooth’s roots were. Over time, bone grows around the implant, which helps to hold it in place.
An artificial tooth, or crown, is then attached to the metal to fill in the gap left by the missing tooth. The crown is specially made to look like your other teeth in size, shape and colour.
Dental implants can also be used to hold a dental bridge or dentures in place.
When might a dental implant be needed?
If you have one or more teeth that are missing, having a dental implant might be an option for replacing the missing teeth. In general, a dental implant might be suitable if you:
- have a fully grown, healthy jawbone
- don’t have gum disease
- don’t have conditions that affect bone healing.
Your dentist will discuss with you whether a dental implant procedure is suitable for you.
What happens during a dental implant?
A dental implant is usually done in stages over a few months, with a series of minor operations and tests.
- You’ll need scans and x-rays to give the dentist a very clear picture of where to place the implant.
- You’ll have a minor operation to have the dental implant put in your jawbone. You will usually be given an anaesthetic so that you don’t feel pain during the surgery.
- You wait for a few months while the bone grows around the dental implant.
- Once the implant is stable, your dentist will create a foundation for your new tooth.
- Some time later, your dentist will take a mould of your mouth to make the artificial tooth or teeth.
- Finally, the artificial tooth or teeth are screwed or cemented into the foundation.
It’s a slow process, with quite a few visits to the dentist and possibly some trips to have scans or x-rays done.
What to expect after a dental implant
After any of the minor operations, you might have bruising, pain and swelling of your gums and face. You may also have some bleeding from the gums.
You might need to eat soft foods after each surgery to let the dental implant site heal.
No special care is required for a dental implant. You will probably be advised to keep your natural and artificial teeth clean by brushing and flossing, and have regular dental check-ups.
Benefits and risks of a dental implant
Dental implants are usually successful. Problems are rare but include:
- injury or damage to surrounding teeth or blood vessels
- nerve damage
- sinus problems.
Alternatives to dental implants
The alternatives to dental implants are wearing dentures or a dental bridge.
A dental implant is expensive – in the thousands of dollars, rather than hundreds of dollars. Make sure you know all the costs before you start. If you have private health insurance, ask the insurance company how much you will get back.
Last reviewed: March 2017