Filling in the Gaps: What Is a Dental Implant?

What Is a Dental Implant?

Learn all about the process and long-term benefits of dental implants here.

Research shows that around three million Americans have received a dental implant, with about 500,000 new ones placed each year.

Are you preparing to join these ranks?

If so, the procedure might sound a little complicated or confusing. You’re ready to embrace your smile with confidence again, but you’re not sure what to expect.

That’s why we’re here.

Today, we’re doing more than answering the question “What is a dental implant?” We’ll dive deep into what the procedure entails, what recovery time is like, and the long-term benefits you can expect to reap.

Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.

What is a dental implant?

First, let’s cover the basics.

A dental implant is an artificial tooth root that’s placed into your jaw. It’s used to hold a replacement tooth or a bridge. There are a few reasons why you might need one. For instance, you might have lost a tooth or multiple teeth due to an injury, periodontal disease, or any other reason.

Depending on your situation, your dentist and periodontist (or oral surgeon) will recommend one of two different kinds of dental implants. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Endosteal Implants

Endosteal means “in the bone”. These are the most common types of dental implants, surgically placed into your jawbone.  In most cases, the implant itself is made of titanium and will protrude through your gum to hold the replacement tooth.

Subperiosteal Implants

Subperiosteal means “on the bone”. As their name implies, these dental implants are placed on or above your jaw and under your gum, protruding through your gum to hold the replacement tooth.

These procedures are less common and usually reserved for patients who need dental implants but don’t have enough healthy jawbone to support them.

Are you a viable candidate?

Wondering if you qualify for a dental implant? In addition to having a missing tooth or teeth, there are a few criteria you’ll need to meet before moving forward, especially if you’re considering an endosteal implant.

The ideal candidate for a dental implant will have the following:

  • Good oral health
  • Good physical health
  • Healthy gum tissue (free of periodontal disease)
  • A fully grown jawbone
  • Adequate bone in their jaw
  • No current tobacco use

In addition to meeting all of the above requirements, you should also make sure that you have the time to commit to the recovery process. Healing can take a few weeks or even a few months depending on how long it takes to develop new bone growth in your jaw.

Keep in mind that if your current oral health status is not exactly where it needs to be to receive your implants, your dentist can help you get there through treating periodontal disease and possibly even rejuvenating jaw bone. Also, your dentist wouldn’t be prescribing implants as a treatment if you were not a good candidate.

What is the procedure like?

Once you’re deemed a good candidate for the dental implant procedure, what can you expect? Especially if you’ve never had oral surgery before, the next steps might seem a little nerve-racking. To help set your mind at ease, let’s review what you can expect.


Once cleared for the surgery, you’ll meet with your dentist and periodontist to determine precisely where and how the implant will be placed.

The final treatment plan you receive will be tailored to your specific condition and the type of implant you need. There are a few different scenarios that could determine the kind that works best for you, so let’s take a look.

Single Tooth Replacement

Only missing one tooth? One dental implant and a crown are all you need to replace it.

Multiple Teeth Replacement

Missing multiple teeth? In this case, an implant-supported bridge is best.

Full Teeth Replacement

Are you missing all of your teeth? No worries! An implant-supported full bridge or full denture can replace them with ease and transform your smile.

Recovery and Healing Time

As mentioned, you’ll need to clear a little time in your schedule to allow your jawbone to heal.

Remember, you won’t be able to drive for 24 hours after your surgery or any time that you’re taking narcotic pain medication. Be sure to bring someone with you to your appointment who can take you home.

What can you expect when you get home? Let’s take a look.

Staying Comfortable

Immediately following the procedure, a small amount of bleeding and swelling is expected. As long as you keep steady pressure on the affected area by biting firmly on the gauze pad placed at the surgical site, the pain level is minimal.

Once you get home, the initial discomfort should subside and you can remove the gauze pad. For added relief, you can gently bite on a roll of moist gauze for 30-minute increments while you recover. Your dentist will also send you home with antibiotics and pain medication that you can take to ease the ache. When you take these, drink half a cup of water or juice to boost absorption and minimize stomach irritation.

If swelling persists in the first 24 hours, hold an ice bag to the outside of your cheek, applying it on and off in 30-minute increments. After that, you can keep swelling to a minimum by elevating your head for the first two nights of post-operative sleep.

Adjusting Your Diet

We give you permission to eat ice cream, gelatin, pudding, and any other soft, liquid food you like for the first two days following dental implant surgery. This is to help prevent any food particles from getting stuck in the wound.

On the third day, you can slowly introduce semi-liquid foods back into your diet. This includes mashed potatoes, eggs, and soft pasta. Once the first week is complete, you should be able to resume your normal diet. Just make sure to steer clear of super-hard foods (think popcorn, chips, nuts) for about a week and abstain from alcohol.

Practicing Good Oral Hygiene

Naturally, good oral hygiene equals good healing. Your dentist will give you an oral rinse to use the night of surgery, as well as the day after surgery. Rinse for at least 30 seconds with it, and then spit it out.

While you’re recovering, warm salt-water rinses (half a teaspoon of salt dissolved in half a glass of lukewarm water) can help keep your mouth clean. You can also brush your teeth gently but avoid commercial mouthwashes.

Long-Term Benefits of Dental Implants

In addition to an immediate improvement in your appearance, dental implants also offer a host of long-term benefits. These include the following:

Improved Speech

Poor-fitting dentures can cause your teeth to slip around your mouth, leading to slurring or mumbling. With a dental implant, you can annunciate with ease.

Improved Comfort

You won’t have to deal with uncomfortable, cumbersome dentures anymore! Dental implants fuse with your bone and become permanent, looking, functioning and feeling like real teeth.

Improved Eating

No more trying to chew while your dentures slide around. Dental implants allow you to bite, chew, and enjoy your favorite foods, pain-free.

Improved Self-Esteem

Missing even one tooth can lower your self-esteem and make you overly self-conscious. If you’re tired of not showing your smile in photos, a dental implant can make a world of difference in your confidence level.

Improved Durability

Dental implants are much stronger than dentures or a bridge. With good care, they’re designed to last a lifetime. Talk about a return on your investment!

Learn More About Our Dental Services

What is a dental implant? In short, it could be the one procedure standing between you and a healthier, more radiant smile.

Now that you know a little more about how the procedure works and what you can expect, are you ready to learn more about how dental implants will work for you?

If so, we’d love to connect.

At Berrien Dental, we specialize in a range of dental services, including dental implants. Schedule an appointment with our team today and let’s take this next step together.