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  • Dr Vidya Varathan Dental Care

What is a Dental Implant?

In order to understand exactly what an implant is, you first have to picture a natural tooth, which essentially has two main parts: 1. the crown, which is the part you see in the mouth above the gum line, and 2. the root, which is inside the bone. A dental or endosseous implant (“endo” – inside; “osseous” – bone) replaces just the root part of the missing tooth. The implant is then topped by a realistic-looking dental crown. Continue to read on what is a dental implant.

Can you describe the Dental Implant Procedure?

Dental implant surgery is usually carried out under local anesthesia (numbing the area where the implant is to be placed) and is a relatively comfortable procedure. Some minor vibration is generally experienced during preparation of the implant (bone) site, but it is quite tolerable. Since there are no open wounds following implant surgery and it is minimally invasive, there is little post-operative discomfort.

A single implant usually needs to be left for a period of two to four months to fuse to the bone before a crown can be attached. The healing time depends upon the bone density at the site of the lost tooth; the more dense the bone, the quicker the integration. Following successful integration, your dentist will make a crown to fit on the implant that will look and function exactly like a normal tooth.

In some implant procedures, the implant is inserted into the bone, covered with the gum tissue, and left to integrate or fuse to the bone. In this two-stage procedure, the implant is uncovered (stage two) and a small connector called an “abutment” is attached to the implant allowing the gum tissue to heal around it. Immediately or after a short healing period, a crown can be attached to the abutment. In a one-stage system, the implant is left exposed at surgery, slightly protruding through the gum tissue. Both of these systems have their merits and indications.

What Care is Needed Following Dental Implant Placement?

The good news is that dental implants require no more attention than your natural teeth — except they will never decay or have any root canal problems. The only real concern is gum disease or too much stress applied to the implants through clenching or bruxing (teeth grinding) habits.

Avoiding gum disease requires flossing and brushing your teeth on a daily basis, along with regular professional cleanings every three or four months to keep the gum tissues surrounding your implants healthy.

If you have a grinding or clenching habit, you should wear a night guard to protect your implants and your investment.

Other than that, your dentist will exam your implants periodically to make sure everything is healthy and stable and will last a very long time.

How Does General Health Influence Dental Implants?

Certain health conditions and habits can have a bearing on the success of dental implants. For example, if you have uncontrolled diabetes, your ability to heal in general will be adversely affected. This in turn affects the osseo-integration process by which your dental implants attach to your bone tissue. Smoking reduces blood supply for healing, so surgical healing in general is less than optimal in a smoker (though smoking does not disqualify you from receiving implants). The osteoporosis drug Fosamax, if taken for more than three years, can compromise bone healing. Osteoporosis itself can affect bone density, making it difficult for implants to be strong enough to handle the normal functional stresses associated with biting and chewing, for example.

What Causes Dental Implants to Fail?

Although it is rare, an implant can fail to fuse to the bone properly or it can come loose from it for a variety of reasons. Failure to remove food particles and plaque from the gums near the implant on a daily basis can lead to a bacterial infection known as peri-implantitis (“peri” – around; “implantitis” – inflammation of the tissues surrounding implants). This infection can destroy bone and loosen the implant. Sometimes it’s the number of implants that’s at fault: too few implants are placed to handle too much stress — a situation known as overload. Sometimes an implant-supported tooth can stick up a little higher than the other teeth, meaning it will be subject to more biting and chewing force. This is why it’s so important to choose a qualified professional to install your implants.

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