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Dental implants

Key points

  • Dental implants are posts that fit into your jawbone and hold replacement teeth in place.
  • Having implants inserted takes several months and may involve more than one operation.
  • The procedure involves drilling a hole in your jawbone that the implant fits into. After your gum has healed, an abutment will be attached that will hold your false tooth.
  • If you look after your implants carefully, they should last a lifetime.

An illustration showing a dental implant


Dental implants are posts that support replacement teeth. They fit directly into your jawbone and hold false teeth in place in the same way that roots support natural teeth.

You will meet the dentist carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.

About dental implants

A dental implant is a metal post that has an internal screw or clip (abutment) that holds a false tooth (or teeth) in place. Implants are usually made of titanium. If you look after your implants properly and maintain good oral hygiene, they should last for the rest of your life.

After surgery to insert the implant your jawbone will fuse with the titanium rod. This takes several months. Dentures, crowns or bridges can be attached to the implant to replace your missing teeth. A single implant can support one or more replacement teeth. To replace all your teeth would require at least six implants in your upper jaw and between four and six in your lower jaw.

An illustration showing a dental implant

Having dental implants will involve at least one operation. You need to have healthy gums and your jawbone needs to be strong enough to hold the implants. Some dentists won't insert dental implants if you smoke as it can affect the outcome of the treatment. Implants are also less likely to be successful if you have had radiotherapy. More research is needed into whether medical conditions, such as diabetes or osteoporosis, affect how well implants work. However, you’re unlikely to be offered implants if you’re taking medicines called bisphosphonates (used to treat bone diseases).

Ask your dentist if implants are an option for you. If you decide to go ahead, it’s important to make sure that the dentist who does your procedure has completed training in placing implants. He or she should reach standards that have been approved by the General Dental Council. Don’t be afraid to ask your dentist how much experience of inserting implants he or she has.

What are the alternatives to dental implants?

Alternatives to dental implants include:

  • removable dentures (false teeth) – plastic or metal frameworks that hold false teeth
  • a bridge – false teeth that are fixed onto your adjacent natural teeth

Preparing for dental implant surgery

Your dentist will explain how to prepare for your procedure.

You’re likely to have some X-rays done so that your dentist can check the shape and thickness of your jawbone. These will also show the position of other structures in your mouth, such as your nerves. It’s possible that you may need to have a CT scan if the X-rays don’t provide enough information.

Dental implant surgery is usually done under local anaesthesia. This completely blocks pain from your mouth and you will stay awake during the procedure. You may have a sedative – this relieves anxiety and helps you to relax. It’s rare, but you may need to go into hospital and have treatment under general anaesthesia. This means you will be asleep during the operation.

Your dentist will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen, and you can help yourself by preparing questions to ask about the risks, benefits and any alternatives to the procedure. This will help you to be informed, so you can give your consent for the procedure to go ahead, which you may be asked to do by signing a consent form.

What happens during dental implant surgery?

The length of time your operation takes will vary depending on how many implants you’re having inserted and how complicated the procedure is. It’s possible to have several implants fitted in the same operation, this will take longer.

Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your dentist will make a cut in your gum and drill a small hole in your jawbone. The implant will fit into this hole.

If you’re having any teeth removed before dental implant surgery, your dentist may be able to put an implant straight into your tooth socket. This is called an immediate implant. If this isn’t possible, your dentist will fit the implant after a few weeks, which is called an immediate-delayed implant. Sometimes he or she will fit it after several months once your jawbone has had time to heal – this is called a delayed implant.

Immediate and delayed implants can be done in one or two stages.

  • In one-stage treatment, the implant rod and the abutment that attaches the implant to the false tooth are fitted at the same time.
  • In two-stage treatment, the implant rod will be buried under your gum while your bone heals (you won’t see it in your mouth). You will have another operation a few months later to attach the abutment.

Your dentist may attach artificial teeth on the same day that you have the implant. However, usually you will need to wait between three and six months to allow your mouth to heal. Your dentist may fit a temporary bridge or partial dentures so you can't see the spaces between your teeth. If you usually wear complete dentures, they can be adjusted so that you can wear them throughout this time.

After your mouth has healed, you will have a second operation to uncover the gum over the top of the implant. Your dentist will then fit your artificial tooth or teeth onto the implant. The teeth may be fixed in place or you may be able to remove them when you need to clean them. Your dentist will ensure that they fit properly, match your other teeth and feel comfortable.

See our frequently asked questions for more information.

What to expect afterwards

You may need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have passed. After a local anaesthetic it may take several hours before the feeling comes back into your mouth. You may need pain relief to help with any discomfort as the anaesthetic wears off. You will usually be able to go home when you feel ready.

If you have a general anaesthetic, you will need to arrange for someone to drive you home. Try to have a friend or relative stay with you for the first 24 hours.

General anaesthesia and sedation temporarily affect your co-ordination and reasoning skills, so you must not drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign legal documents for 24 hours afterwards. If you're in any doubt about driving, contact your motor insurer so that you're aware of their recommendations, and always follow your dentist’s advice.

It’s important to only eat soft foods for the rest of the day after having dental implant surgery. Be careful having hot food and drinks until all feeling has returned to your mouth otherwise you might burn yourself without realising. It’s very important to keep your mouth clean by brushing and flossing as usual. You may need to use special brushes that make it easier to clean between your teeth.

Recovering from dental implant surgery

If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

Your dentist may prescribe you antibiotics and an antiseptic mouthwash to reduce the risk of your implant getting infected. However, there isn’t much evidence to show that these are effective.

You will need to go for more frequent appointments with your dentist for a few months after surgery. This is so that he or she can check that there aren’t any problems. The time it takes to make a full recovery from dental implant surgery will vary depending on your treatment plan. Therefore, it's important to follow your dentist's advice.

Once you have recovered, your implants and replacement teeth should function as natural teeth do and you will be able to eat as normal. It’s very important to make sure that you brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day to ensure they stay healthy. Make sure that you see your dentist and hygienist regularly. See our frequently asked questions for more information.

If you damage one of the teeth attached to an implant, your dentist can probably remove it and put in a replacement. If the implant itself is damaged, it may be possible to repair it. If your dentist can’t repair the implant, he or she will place another one alongside it.

What are the risks?

As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with dental implant surgery. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your dentist to explain how these risks apply to you.

Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure.

You may have some swelling and discomfort around the implant area. If so, you can take an over-the-counter painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

Complications are when problems occur during or after the procedure. The possible complications of any operation include an unexpected reaction to the anaesthetic, or excessive bleeding.

The nerve that runs to your face has branches that are in your lower jaw. These supply the feeling to your lower jaw, lower teeth and gums and your bottom lip. If the nerves are damaged by the implant, you may feel temporary or sometimes permanent tingling or numbness. It may also be painful. X-rays and CT scans help your dentist to see the position of the nerves in your jawbone to minimise this risk.

Occasionally, the jawbone doesn't fuse with the implant properly and the implant can become loose. This isn't usually painful, but the implant won't be able to support false teeth. You may need to have another implant fitted. Your dentist will ask you to attend regular check-ups to make sure your implants are still secure.

Reviewed by Polly Kerr, Bupa Health Information, November 2013.

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For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

    Approved by Plain English Campaign The Information Standard memberHON Code


  • Publication date: January 2012

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