Dental Implants Guide: Top Questions & Answers

While dental care options continue to improve, millions of Americans still suffer from tooth loss. In some parts of the United States, more than 20% of working-age adults have lost six or more teeth due to gum disease, tooth decay, or injury. In the past, the only options have been bridges or dentures, but dental implants now offer a long-term solution.

If you’re considering dental implants, you probably have a lot of questions. We’ve drawn on the expertise of our doctors and the RealSelf community to give you answers to the most commonly asked questions.

In This Overview:

What Are Dental Implants?

Are They Right for Me?

How Much Do They Cost?

Does Insurance Cover Them?

How Do I Choose a Dentist?

What Happens During the Procedure?

What's the Recovery Time?

What Results Can I Expect?

Do Dental Implants Hurt?

What Are Common Side Effects?

What Else Do I Need to Know?

What Are Dental Implants?

Dental implants replace the roots of the teeth. They act as a screw-like anchor to hold permanent or removable replacement teeth that look, feel, and function like your own. The implants are meant to fuse with your jawbone, allowing the replacements to feel sturdy in your mouth instead of slipping around like ill-fitting dentures. Back to top

Are Dental Implants Right for Me?

Ideal candidates for dental implants have healthy gums and enough bone to keep the implant in place. Heavy smokers or people who suffer from chronic diseases need to be examined on a case-by-case basis. The best bet is to talk to your dentist to determine if dental implants are right for you. Back to top

How Much Do Dental Implants Cost?

While the average cost of dental implants is listed at around $6,400 on RealSelf, the price can vary widely. Many factors play a part in cost, including whether or not bone needs to be grafted and whether a custom abutment (the piece that connects the replacement tooth to the implant) needs to be made.

“The cost of dental implants will also vary depending on where you live,”  says Cleveland dentist Paul Kantor. “Major cities tend to have higher fees, as do the East and West coasts. Check around in your area [and you’ll see that] fees will fall mostly within a certain range. Find someone you trust within that price range. Fees that are unusually low often mean offshore labs, lower quality materials, or inexperienced doctors are involved … In the Cleveland area, $4,000 to $5,000 for a single tooth (including implant surgery and restoration) would be a ballpark number.”

An important variable to remember is the number of teeth being restored. Replacing many teeth may cost anywhere between $20,000 and $45,000. Back to top

Does Insurance Cover Dental Implants?

Dental implants are typically not covered by insurance, yet as oral and maxillofacial surgeon Ryan Kazemi explains, “some medical insurances may offer benefits for implants if it was necessary due to trauma or pathology.”

The treatment’s also not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, since it’s considered an elective procedure. “If you want an implant and you have good credit, you could apply for a loan through CareCredit,” says Houston dentist Scott Young. “If approved, you could pay for the procedure over a period of time, while getting the benefit of the implant now.”

Discuss your options with your dentist and insurance provider. Payment plans may be available through CareCredit or another financing company. Back to top

Related Article: The RealSelf Guide to Plastic Surgery Financing

How Do I Choose a Dentist for Dental Implants?

The dental implant procedure is performed in multiple steps, typically with more than one person in several locations. While it can be performed in full by a general dentist, those considered dental implant specialists are oral and maxillofacial surgeons and periodontists.

“Successful implant dentistry requires collaboration of two experts in their own fields,” says Dr. Kazemi. “A specialized surgeon placing the dental implants and a restorative dentist placing crowns, bridges, or dentures on them. Rarely can a person achieve true mastery of both fields.”

Dr. Kazemi goes on to explain that the success of dental implants lies in special attention being placed on the extraction of the teeth, the underlying jawbone, the gum tissue profile, and the precision of placement using well-researched implants that fit perfectly and meet the desired function and aesthetic requirements. These details are best understood by oral surgeons and periodontists who certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and/or the American Board of Periodontology.

The second part of the procedure involves the placement of the crowns, bridges, or dentures. Dr. Kazemi advises selecting a general dentist or prosthodontist who has specialized training in cosmetic and reconstructive restorative dentistry. Depending on your individual needs, other specialists such as orthodontists and endodontists may work alongside the restorative dentist, but they should not be performing the procedure on their own.

Because of this multi-step process, there are dental implant centers with entire teams devoted to performing the procedure under one roof. While these centers provide the convenience of a single location for extractions and implants, do not provide comprehensive care. Any cleaning and maintenance of your natural teeth or implants will still be performed by your regular dentist.

Regardless of whether you chose to go to an implant center or separate locations, it’s imperative to ask the right questions before you make your final choice. Questions such as:

  • Do you have specialized training in dental implants?
  • How many of these types of cases have you done in the past year?
  • What’s the average healing time for this procedure?
  • What’s the most common complication you see?
  • Can you show me before and after photos of similar cases you’ve had?

RealSelf knows how overwhelming choosing a doctor can be, which is why we only allow licensed and qualified doctors to participate on the site. If you’re looking for someone to perform your dental implant procedure, use our Doctor Finder to research dentists in your area. Back to top

What Happens During a Dental Implant Procedure?

Once a treatment plan has been designed for your individual needs, a screw-like implant is placed into the socket of the missing tooth. Before any replacement teeth (otherwise known as crowns) can be added, your mouth will need to heal for anywhere from six to 16 weeks in order for the jawbone to secure around the implant.

After the healing period is over, an abutment is placed on top of the implant. This is a small connector that keeps the crown secured to the implant. Your dentist will then make an impression of your teeth, which will be used as a model for the replacement tooth. This tooth will be matched to the color of your natural teeth and function just as your other teeth do. In some cases, removable dentures will be fixed to the implants instead of using individual crowns. Back to top

What’s the Recovery Time for Dental Implants?

The procedure happens in several steps: first implant placement and then placement of the crowns. While the implants need anywhere from six to 16 weeks to secure in the mouth, there should be little to no downtime. You may feel mild soreness or swelling for the first few days, but these can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications and shouldn’t affect your daily routine. Your dentist may also suggest a soft or liquid diet for a few days to a few weeks. Once the implants have healed, the crowns will be placed. Back to top

What Results Can I Expect From Dental Implants?

Individual results will vary depending on a person’s needs, but the goal of every dental implant procedure is for the replacement teeth to look, feel, and act as a person’s own. To get an idea of the kinds of results you can expect, below are three of the most viewed before and after photos on RealSelf.

Photos courtesy of Manhattan dentist Peter Mann

Dental Implants 2

*Treatment results may vary

Photos courtesy of Las Vegas dentist Mike Golpa

Dental Implants 3

*Treatment results may vary

Photos courtesy of Waco dentist Nicholas Cobb

Do Dental Implants Hurt?

The pain during and after a dental implant procedure varies from person to person, but in general, it’s not a painful procedure. “The implant surgery will be done under local anesthetic (or sedation, if you’re apprehensive) and you will not feel anything,” says Toronto periodontist Herbert Veisman. “Normal post-implant sequelae includes a little swelling, a little oozing of blood, and a little discomfort (2 or 3 on a scale of 10).”

If you do feel soreness for the first few days, our doctors recommend taking an over-the-counter medication like Advil or Tylenol. If you start to feel pain that goes beyond what you were told to expect, this is usually an indication that something is wrong. See your dentist right away.
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What Are Common Side Effects and Complications?

Dental implants are one of the most successful procedures in dentistry, with an average success rate of 95%. “Infection is extremely rare and most surgeons take the extra precaution of prescribing antibiotics to lower the risk even further,” explains New Jersey dentist Richard Champagne. “Implant breakage is also rather rare, especially if the proper sizes are chosen and the right number are placed to give sufficient support.”

Dental implant failure occurs most frequently in heavy smokers, as the toxins and nicotine inhibit the body’s healing process. In fact, the success rate for smokers drops dramatically, to 50-70%. “I’ve experienced firsthand how poorly implants work in smokers,”  says Manhattan dentist Peter Mann. “For that reason, I decided to no longer place dental implants in people who smoke.” Back to top

What Else Do I Need to Know?

How Many Teeth Can Be Replaced?

If your mouth is healthy enough to undergo the procedure, you can have any number of your teeth individually replaced. If you’re looking to replace the entirety of your top or bottom teeth, it’s also possible to attach an arch of 14 teeth on as little as four implants. This is called the All-on-4 procedure. Speak to your dentist to determine the right plan to achieve your desired results.

What Are Mini Dental Implants?

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding mini dental implants, which, as the name suggests, are smaller than the conventional versions. The implants were first marketed as temporary devices used during the process of full mouth reconstruction, and were removed at the end of treatment. Today, some dentists use mini dental implants in the same way as the standard ones, though most will agree that minis are best used in areas of the mouth where bone is limited or to temporarily stabilize loose dentures.

“The research for standard dental implants is exhaustive in the literature,” says Dr. Veisman. “The same cannot be said for mini dental implants. These implants do have their place for tooth replacement [but] depending on how strong your bite is, these implants can break … The mini implants do cost less, but without sounding overly simplistic, you do get what you pay for. Cost should never be the overriding factor in making a decision about surgery.”

Which Manufacturer Is the Best for Dental Implants?

There are hundreds of kinds of dental implants on market, but none can be called the best. What’s important is that the implant be made from high-grade titanium and suited for your individual needs. Depending on the shape and size required, a dentist may even use two or three different manufacturers in a single procedure.

How Do I Take Care of My Dental Implants?

Dental implants should be treated like your natural teeth, with daily brushing and flossing, and twice yearly check-ups. Your dentists may suggest investing in an electric toothbrush and a water flosser. With the right care, dental implants can last a lifetime.

Are There Other Alternatives to Dental Implants?

While dental implants are the longest-lasting option for replacing missing teeth, other alternatives are bridges and removable dentures. Learn more about your options by visiting our Q&A.

Have a question we didn't answer in this guide? Ask an expert doctor.

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The RealSelf Guide to Dental Implants has been medically reviewed for accuracy by Maryland oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Ryan Kazemi, DMD. Dr. Kazemi is a diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and Chief resident at the Washington Hospital Center. 

Please note:

This content is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare professional. Your reliance on any information or content provided in the guide is solely at your own risk. You should always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare professional for any questions you have about your own medical condition. RealSelf does not endorse or recommend any specific content, procedure, product, opinion, healthcare professional or any other material or information in this guide or anywhere on this website.

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