Said an urgent email from my cousin who had recently moved to Europe. Being a dentist, I know just how worrisome that situation can be. His broken tooth couldn't be saved, and he would need a dental implant right away. Since he couldn't get back to the states for me to help him, he asked what he should know about dental implants as he searched for a dentist overseas.
Because most people don't have a dentist in the family who they can ask, here's what I told my cousin when he was trying to decide whether to get a dental implant.
Joshua Renken, DDS
You might have asked a friend who's had a dental implant or done some googling to find out what to expect.
But the first thing you need to understand is that getting a dental implant is different for everyone because every implant procedure is unique. Your experience might not be the same as that of your friends or people who wrote about it online.
Every implant procedure has a variety of factors that can completely change the experience for the patient. For example, some patients can have an implant placed with the same local anaesthetic you would get for a filling, and the only other medication needed is a few Ibuprofen. They might head back to work that same day a problematic tooth is removed. Other patients might need a more complex implant procedure that requires sedation with a specialist surgeon and a few days of recovery. Your experience could be like these or somewhere in between, depending on your unique situation.
So don't rely on assumptions and stories to make your decision about getting an implant. The best thing you can do is to work with a proactive dentist who thoroughly explores your unique situation so you know exactly what to expect.
Standard two dimensional X-ray systems are excellent for many other things, but they don't show enough detail to plan a dental implant procedure. Information about the location of the implant and the surrounding bone structure are critical factors in making implants effective and safe.
Thankfully, modern 3D scans give doctors much more information than standard X-rays. These scans allow the doctor to pick the implant length and shape that will be just right for you, avoid nerves, blood vessels, and sinuses during the procedure, and even fabricate a physical guide tool shaped for your mouth that ensures your implant can be placed precisely in the right spot.
Because of modern 3D imaging, implants are an amazingly predictable way to replace the teeth you once had. Detailed scan information and a carefully planned and customized implant procedure keep you safe.
Your options for new teeth are almost endless. It's almost like picking out a new car. You and your doctor can decide together how the new tooth is attached, whether it is permanent or temporary, and all kinds of other things—although new teeth don't usually come in quite so many color options as cars do. I've yet to meet a patient who preferred fire engine red over pearly white.
Joking aside, like with any serious decision, you have to start with what's most important to you. What do you need to feel well and meet your personal goals? What does getting your smile back mean to you?
Make sure to choose a dentist who takes the time to understand what's important to you, so you can choose the best options together. After all, it's your tooth!
Many medications can complicate implant placement. So can current or even past health issues. If you go ahead with the implant, your body will need to heal around the implant in the short term and maintain its connection with the bone for years to come. Your body needs to be healthy for an implant to work well.
So, make sure to tell your doctor about any and all medicines you are taking and any other health issues, even if they don't seem related to teeth! Your mouth's health is closely connected to your overall health.
Make sure to choose a doctor who conducts a thorough health review before you decide about getting an implant. Understanding your whole health is the first step in having a great outcome when you go to replace those missing teeth.
Implant pricing can be tricky because each procedure might require different steps, tools, and methods. Removal of the original tooth and sometimes bone augmentation can affect the cost, and so can the implant itself. An implant can have many parts: abutments, crowns, and other things that ultimately make it a tooth. Many offices have separate pricing for all of those things.
Figuring out whether your insurance covers each individual part, step of the procedure, and even sedation can be complicated. Some dental insurance has a “missing tooth clause” and will not cover an implant if the tooth was extracted prior to when coverage began.
The dental office can do a lot to avoid these kinds of headaches and make pricing and insurance coverage easier to figure out. They can send a pre-estimate to your insurer as a courtesy, for example. Some offices will give you clear bundle pricing for all of the parts of the process to remove the mystery and complexity.
Patients should understand exactly what they are getting for their investment up front. Don't start a procedure until you feel completely comfortable with the arrangement, and don't be afraid to ask questions about pricing.