First things first: what are dental implants? Reminiscent of screws and typically made from titanium, dental implants are long-term solutions for damaged tooth roots and nerves. Installing these tooth root replacements is an invasive process, as dentists must secure them inside the jawbone. Once fused with the jaw, dental implants provide a solid foundation for dentures, bridges, and dental crowns. They can also encourage bone growth in the absence of natural teeth.
If you have a dental implant procedure on the horizon, you’ll also need an aftercare plan. Here’s how you can take care of your mouth—and yourself—in the aftermath of dental implant installation.
Dentists: helping us get to the root of the problem. Image: Primary Dental
Bone grafting: what is it and what does it have to do with dental implant aftercare?
Sometimes, the jawbone isn’t thick enough to withstand a dental implant. In cases such as this, your dentist will perform a preparatory procedure called bone grafting. In the context of dental surgery, bone grafting is a process whereby your dentist repairs your jaw using additional bone material—be it natural or artificial. Oftentimes, you will need to wait several months in between bone grafting and the dental implant installation. This gives the jaw time to ‘grow into’ its ‘built-in extension’.
Following bone grafting, you’ll need an aftercare plan. This will be similar to the aftercare plan that dental implant installation will also necessitate. Here are some pointers for bone grafting aftercare:
During the first hour following the procedure, your dentist will place gauze sponges in your mouth. You’ll need to bite these to apply pressure to the grafted areas. If bleeding continues hereafter, swap the gauze sponges for new ones and secure these for a further 30 minutes.
- Don’t eat or sleep whilst the gauze sponges are in place.
- If bleeding restarts or continues after the first two hours, call your doctor or dentist.
- Your dentist may prescribe medication for pain or numbness following the procedure. Take these as instructed.
- Be gentle with your mouth! Spitting, chewing, or rinsing your mouth can dislodge your clots, causing infection or bleeding. Though light bleeding is normal throughout the first two days or so, you don’t want to aggravate the issue lest you compromise the healing tissue.
- Rest for the first 24 to 48 hours following the procedure.
- Keep an elevated head!
- Hold an ice pack to your face every 30 to 45 minutes (above the affected area). This can help to reduce swelling and residual pain.
- Once the bleeding has stopped, you may consume clear fluids—but avoid using straws, as the suction-based pressure can dislodge clots.
- Slowly re-introduce soft foods. We’re talking soups, mashed potatoes, or jelly. We are not talking anything remotely crunchy—and especially not offenders such as popcorn, seeds or nuts.
- Don’t drive, drink alcohol, or operate heavy machinery—neither 24 hours after the surgery nor whilst taking prescribed pain medicine.
- Do not smoke after the surgery—or at all. In fact, dental surgery is typically not recommended for smokers at all.
A perfect example of what NOT to eat following surgery. Nine out of ten* dentists would NOT recommend. (*Please note these are not real statistics.)
Dental implant aftercare: post-surgery
When it comes to dental implant aftercare, you can take a lot of pointers from the above aftercare plan for bone grafting. Dental surgery and the aftermath are similar across the board. In addition to the above, here are some pointers peculiar to dental implant aftercare:
- From the day following your procedure onward, you should rinse your mouth with salt water three to four times daily. You can also resume tooth and gum brushing from this day, provided you’re gentle around the surgical site.
- To protect the surgical sites, avoid hydrogen peroxide or any sort of oral sprays.
- Start with a soft food diet once you remove the gauze sponge(s). Gradually transition back to a regular diet in accordance with what you can tolerate. (Needless to say, straws are a no-no 24 following the procedure, and ideally in the days that follow.)
Dental implants: for when your teeth roots say, “screw this—I’m outta here!”
Dental implant aftercare in general
With great implants comes great responsibility. Once you’ve recovered from the procedure—and your dentist has affixed your new crown—ensure to treat the falsey like any other tooth with daily brushing and flossing. Take particular care with the crown, as it may be more vulnerable to breakage (depending on the material used). Porcelain crowns, for example, chip more easily than natural teeth. Perhaps lay off the toffee, or if you’re eating boiled lollies, resist the biting urge to…well, bite. Some crowns may be vulnerable to staining, so it may also be wise to limit caffeine intake.