For anyone needing dental implants for the first time, the experience can be quite scary and confusing. Let’s face it…no one actually WANTS a dental implant, but sometimes it is our only option. Quite frankly, implants are the best option for replacing a missing tooth or several missing teeth. In dentistry, implants are considered the “gold standard” for tooth replacement. Nevertheless, the experience can be quite daunting for someone who has never been through it. The fear of the unknown is usually the culprit of our anxiety, but when it comes to dentistry there is also the fear of pain that takes precedence over everything else. The following blog post is an attempt to ease your anxiety by explaining exactly what to expect at your dental implant appointment.
First of all a little background and disclosure…I’m a dentist, but I’m also a long-time dental patient who has had almost every dental procedure you can think of. My parents weren’t raised in an area or time period where dental hygiene and prevention was routinely practiced. Yes, they told me to brush my teeth as a kid, but never really enforced that rule. Floss? I didn’t use it until I was a teenager when my teeth started to hurt! By then it was too late. I had my first root canal when I was 16 years old, along with several fillings on my back teeth. Although I started to take better care of my teeth after that, the root canaled tooth became infected again 3 years later. My dentist at the time gave it another go and did what we call a, “re-treat,” which is a second root canal to attempt to remove any remaining infection. It seemed to take care of the problem for a while until it got infected AGAIN. I had to have that tooth pulled when I was 27 years old. By then I had already graduated from dental school and you can imagine my guilt and embarrassment of being a dentist AND having to have a tooth pulled at such a young age.
Luckily, I had met my husband, Dr. Mo Saleh, and at that time and he was able to give me a replacement tooth by placing my first dental implant. Yes, unfortunately, I’ve had another one of my molars head down that same route. The second tooth I had pulled was due to a crack or fracture. I’ve always had a problem with clenching and grinding my teeth. Grinding, also known as, “bruxism,” is a major cause of tooth fracture. Although I wore a nightguard when I slept, during the day I would unknowingly clench and grind my teeth. This created microfractures or cracks in several of my teeth which already had fillings in them. I got a little excited one day while eating Heath Bar (hard toffee) and heard a loud cracking noise in my mouth. Pretty much immediately after that, I experienced horrible, intense, throbbing pain on my lower left molars. Typically for cracked teeth, having a root canal will work only if the crack does not extend down the root of the tooth. It can be pretty hard to see if this is the case since the cracks can be very small, almost microscopic. For symptomatic cracked teeth, usually root canals are done and then a crown is placed over the tooth to prevent it from breaking in the future. However, if the tooth has an unseen root fracture, it will continue to be painful even after the root canal and crown are placed. The only other option at that time is to have the tooth pulled and an implant placed. I had cracked my two lower left molars on that Heath Bar. The root canal/crown procedure worked for one, but not the other. I ended up having to have yet another tooth extraction and an implant placed to replace it.
Even though I’m a dentist and I’ve extracted many patients’ teeth and placed several implants, I’m still human. I have dental anxiety just like the rest of you! In fact, I rarely have my teeth worked on without having nitrous oxide to help ease my anxiety. The nice thing about our office is we offer a wide range of sedation options for patients with mild, moderate, or even severe dental anxiety. For mild/moderate anxiety like mine, nitrous oxide works great. For more severe anxiety, both my husband and I have the additional certification which allows us to perform IV sedation. For this type of sedation would start an IV (usually in your arm) and give your medications through that IV which basically knock you out, so you’re not aware of what is going, nor will you remember anything from your dental appointment. We perform both types of sedation on a daily basis.
For me, nitrous works amazingly well. I can honestly say that having a dental implant placed is way easier than I thought it would be. After the numbing, I literally did not feel anything during the entire procedure. My first implant was placed a few years after my tooth had been pulled. My second implant was placed at the same time that my tooth was pulled. Having both the tooth extracted and the implant placed during the same appointment is so much better in my opinion. First of all, you don’t have to go through two separate surgeries, which in and of itself is a big deal in my book. Doing both at the same time also means you don’t have to go through the anxiety of mentally preparing for your appointment two separate times AND you don’t have to deal with the healing and post-op pain two separate times.
The only part of the entire ordeal that involves any pain is actually the healing and post-op, which happens after you leave the office and the numbing wears off. Patients can experience varying levels of postoperative pain depending on the complexity of the procedure itself, the level of infection present, and individual patient pain tolerance. Regardless, you are usually sent home with prescriptions for a painkiller, an anti-inflammatory, and most likely some antibiotics which will help with healing and any postoperative pain. You will be given instructions on how to care for the surgical site and things to do or to avoid in order to ensure that you heal properly.
All in all, it’s a very simple procedure, similar to what one would experience after having a tooth pulled. The implant placement doesn’t increase the amount of pain you will feel whatsoever. In fact, in my case and in most cases, it’s easier to recover from the actual implant placement then it is from the extraction.
Look for a separate coming blog on what to expect after having an implant placed and what you can do to make the healing process easier and more predictable. All in all, its really not so bad! I guess, just like anything else in life, you have to go through it to actually know what it will be like for you individually, but I hope I’ve helped to ease your anxiety somewhat. In the end, I’m extremely happy with my decision to have dental implants. They are so much better than any other option for tooth replacement out there, and when taken care of properly they will last a lifetime!
Dr. Rima Shaer