Because they can last a lifetime, dental implants are the all-around best way to replace missing teeth. 

However, the stability and comfort you get with implants comes with a price: their recovery time is one of the longest of any dental procedure, especially if you require a bone graft first. 

Still, we believe the implant healing process–which includes a two-week recovery period and up to six months’ healing time after placing the post–is well worth the years and years of enjoyment they offer. 

Read on to learn what the journey entails and we think you’ll agree.

PRP test tubes prepared for centrifuge

Now Offering Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)!

For faster healing, less pain, and fewer complications, patients at Bunker Hill Dentistry can now take advantage of this simple and safe procedure to speed up treatment.

Learn More about PRP

2 Phases of Implant Recovery

Implants require solid jawbone in which to anchor them in the mouth; so patients without adequate bone must undergo a bone graft before getting an implant placed, making for a three-phase recovery. 

While various combinations of procedures are sometimes possible (such as combining the implant post and abutment placements), we will focus on the typical, two-phase recovery process:

  1. After the implant post is placed, there is a 3-6 month recovery and healing period.
  2. After the abutment is placed, there is a 1-2 week recovery period.

The process is generally finished once the crown is placed–there is no significant recovery needed.  Thus the entire implant process should take between four and seven months.

Quick recap: A dental implant is made up of 3 components – a titanium post, an abutment, and a restoration (typically a crown). The post is placed first and left to fuse with the bone before the abutment and crown are added.

Phase #1: Recovery After the Implant Post Is Placed

Immediately After the Implant Post Procedure

Given the relatively short duration of the implant post procedure, local anesthetic is usually the best choice for patients, although heavier sedation can be used to relieve anxiety. With local anesthesia, you should be able to drive home safely afterward, but with any heavier sedation you should get a ride home. 

You’ll likely experience at least some mild pain and tingling in the first 24 hours, with soreness, bruising, swelling, and minor bleeding also possible. Dizziness, nausea, and blurred vision can happen but are not common. 

All your symptoms should improve each day–if they worsen, you should contact your dentist.

Care Tips

  • Wait to brush your teeth until 24 hours have passed. 
  • In the meantime, rinse your mouth with warm salt water. Don’t use mouthwash.
  • Continue using the gauze the dentist gave you, replacing it as needed until bleeding ceases.
  • Apply ice to your face to reduce swelling on a 20-minutes-on/20-minutes off schedule throughout the day.

Pain Management

It’s best to manage acute pain with over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) taken every six to eight hours. Beginning them before the anesthetic wears off can help transition you into the recovery period better.

If pain persists, you may take a prescription medication, if your dentist has approved one. After a few days, you should have no more need for it. 

Resuming Regular Activities

You’ll want to take things easy at first. For some patients, this means returning to work, while those with demanding jobs may need to take off one or two days. You should rest and avoid strenuous activity (workouts, sports, etc.) for three full days, or until you’re no longer taking pain medication.

Eating & Drinking

Soft foods are on the menu! Smoothies, shakes, thick soups, yogurt, and pureed food are all great options. The only caveat is to avoid using a straw, which necessitates using suction that can loosen the clots in your incision. Hot and spicy foods should also be avoided, as well, as they can irritate the surgery site. 

Soft foods to eat during recovery from implant placement - strawberry smoothie, soup, yoghurt, pureed tomotoes
Stick to soft foods immediately after the implant post is placed, such as smoothies (top left), soups (top right), yoghurt (bottom left), and pureed food (bottom right).

Basically, you should let your body guide you–if you feel you can tolerate a food, go ahead and reincorporate it. But don’t be concerned if it takes several weeks to get back to being comfortable eating your normal diet.

Smoking & Drinking Alcohol

These are both no-nos, as both interfere with the healing process and increase the risk of infection. Avoid nicotine and alcohol for a minimum of one week after surgery, and preferably longer. A nicotine patch is allowable but nicotine gum and chewing tobacco are just as bad as smoking during this time.

The Waiting Period

After your initial surgery and recovery period, even though you won’t be under any eating or oral care restrictions, you still have to give your jawbone time to fuse to the titanium of the implant in what’s called osseointegration. 

This can take anywhere from three to six months based on bone quantity and quality, your risk factors as a patient, and the surgeon’s expertise level. 

The dentist will monitor your progress at regular checkups using one or more methods to test the implant’s stability. 

One commonly used option is resonance frequency analysis (RFA), a non-invasive diagnostic tool in which magnetic pulses are sent to a small metal rod temporarily attached to the implant. A probe then reads the vibrations created and uses them to develop a stability score. 

The dentist could also use a torque test (measuring whether the implant can resist a twisting force at a standardized torque level), a percussion test (gently tapping the implant to gauge the pitch produced), or even just his general perception on whether the implant is sufficiently integrated. 

The sooner he determines the implant is ready, the sooner you can advance to the next stage of treatment. 

Phase #2: Recovery After the Abutment and Crown Are Placed

To place the abutment, the dentist must make an incision in the gum that has grown over the post in order to reach it.

He will give you local anesthetic beforehand, thus the same side effects of anesthesia can be present. This process can also create some pain and soreness that should desist within one to two weeks. 

Until then, go back to eating soft foods for at least a few days before ramping back up to your full diet. 

After a couple weeks, you will return to the dentist to have the permanent crown placed. This involves no incisions so aside from the possibility of tender gums, you won’t have any eating or oral care restrictions.

What Factors Influence Recovery Time?

  • The number of implants: Although certain implants can take longer to heal than others, the difference is negligible enough that many patients opt to get all their implants done simultaneously. After all, if you’re going to have to “baby” your mouth for one tooth, you may as well do it for two or more and get it over with. 
  • The location of the implants: Location is the main reason certain implants take longer to heal than others. Generally, those in the lower jawbone heal more quickly than those in the upper arch.
  • Bone grafting: If you had to undergo bone grafting, this can dramatically affect your total recovery time, as the graft site must be completely healed before proceeding with the post placement. This can take anywhere from three to nine months. 
  • Your hygiene and health habits: Smoking, drinking, and poor oral care can lengthen recovery. 
  • Your body’s healing rate: People who are healthy overall tend to heal faster, but factors such as age and genetics that are out of your control play a part, as well.

Long-Term Care Tips – Making Your Implants Last a Lifetime

Dental implants are resilient–treat them as lovingly as you treat your other teeth and they will last a lifetime. 

This means following recommended oral health routines such as brushing twice daily, flossing at least once, and seeing the dentist regularly. Read our comprehensive caring for teeth guide.

This will soften the wear and tear on the implant(s), as well as ensure the health of the surrounding gum, which is just as important as protecting the implant itself. 

Learn more about getting implants at Bunker Hill Dentistry