What is dental implant treatment?

Chris Steele
Founder and Editor
Chris is our resident private health insurance and healthcare expert. He has over a decade of experience writing about private medical insurance and treatment. He's Chartered Insurance Institute qualified and is regularly quoted by the national press.
Chris Steele
Updated on
April 9, 2024

A dental implant can be used to replace one or more missing teeth. Treatment can be complex, depending on how much work you need, but implants can help restore your smile and your confidence. The procedure is also a longer-term solution to alternatives such as dentures and dental bridges. Here’s how dental implant treatment works, what it involves and how much it costs.

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What is a dental implant?

Dental implants are made up of three main components :

  • The implant itself is a small metal screw (usually made of titanium or a titanium alloy). This is secured to your jawbone and acts as a ‘tooth’ root.
  • An abutment (a type of support) is then fitted to the implant.
  • The replacement tooth (crown) is fitted to the abutment, securing the tooth to the implant.

The aim of dental implants is to recreate a natural-looking smile, so replacement teeth are usually custom-made to match your remaining teeth as closely as possible.  

Who can carry out dental implant procedures?

Dental implant procedures can only be carried out by dental or oral surgeons or by dentists with specialist training. Your dental practice may already have a qualified dentist or specialist surgeon; if not, you can be referred elsewhere for treatment.

What are the different types of dental implants available?

Implants can be used in a few ways depending on the number of teeth you have missing and their position in your mouth – for instance, if gaps are next to each other or on opposite sides.

Based on what you need, your dentist or dental surgeon might suggest one of these types of dental implant

Single dental implant in the mouth of a female patient

1. Single or multiple implants

Individual implants are fixed into your jawbone where needed, followed by the abutment and the tooth.

Implant supported bridge example

2. Implant-supported bridges

These may be used when you have one or more teeth missing in a row. If this is the case, implants are fitted into either side of the gap. Abutments are then added, and the missing row of teeth is slotted into them as normal.

For example, if you were missing three adjacent teeth, the implants and abutments would be positioned where tooth one and three should be. Your bridge will then be made up of three teeth (tooth one and three will be fixed into the implant), and tooth two will be fixed in between them.

Implant-supported bridges aren’t the same as standard dental bridges. With a standard bridge, instead of an implant, replacement teeth are fixed to your own teeth either side of where the gap is.

Drawing of implant supported dentures

3. Implant-supported dentures

If you’re missing several teeth or have very few natural teeth left, your dentist might recommend implant-supported dentures.

The method is similar to supported bridges, where implants are inserted at regular spaces in your jawbone. Dentures then fit onto a bar, which in turn clips into the implants. In contrast, standard dentures fit over your gums and rely on the suction created between your gum and the denture to keep it in place. Because of this, implant-supported dentures are considered the more secure option as there’s less risk of them shifting during the day.

Diaggram of all-on-four dental implants

4. All-on-four

If you’re missing almost all your teeth, your dentist might recommend this procedure, also known as teeth-in-a-day or full-mouth dental implants.

As the name suggests, you’ll only need four dental implants to support one row of teeth. With this treatment, the implants are usually fitted at an angle along the front of your jaw, which is the strongest part of your jawbone. This also helps avoid the need for bone grafts.

These implants will then support a dental bridge complete with your replacement teeth.

What does a dental implant involve?

Dental implants are a surgical procedure, so you’ll need to be assessed to ensure treatment is right for you.

Typically, there are four key stages involved in dental implant procedures, but bear in mind that every procedure is different depending on the practice or hospital you go to, the work you need done and the number of teeth that need replacing.

Stage one: assessment and consultation

Your dentist or dental surgeon will discuss your needs and check whether dental implants will be suitable for you. It’s also your opportunity to ask any questions or raise any concerns.

You won’t usually need to make a decision right away, but if you choose to have dental implants, x-rays of your mouth will be taken, along with moulds of your teeth. From here, your dental surgeon will create a treatment plan, which should set out each step along with a timeframe.

Stage two: preparation

Dental implants can only be fitted if you have sufficient bone in your jaw to support them. If your assessment x-rays and scans show that you don’t have enough bone, you may need a bone graft to increase its density.

Bone grafts are relatively routine when it comes to dental implants, so if you need one, try not to worry too much. Your dentist or oral surgeon will explain what will happen and how it might affect you, but depending on how much extra bone you need, they’ll carry out one of these types of graft:

  • Minor bone graft – bone from another part of your jaw will be taken and fused to the bone that will hold the implants. This is usually done under a local anaesthetic.
  • Major bone graft – if your oral surgeon thinks you need more bone than your jaw can provide, bone from another part of your body will be used instead. This is done under a general anaesthetic, so it’ll usually mean an overnight stay in hospital.

Stage three: implants are fitted

You’ll be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area where the implants will be fitted. Your dentist or dental surgeon will cut into your gum, drill into the bone and fix the implants in place. If needed, your gum will normally be stitched back together to help it heal (stitches are usually removed after about one week).

Your dental implants will need between three and eight months to heal before your new teeth can be fitted.

Stage four: replacement teeth are fitted

When your implants are ready to support your new teeth, abutments will be fitted, and your replacement teeth will be placed on top.

After this stage, you’ll be given instructions to look after your mouth in the days and weeks after your treatment.  

What aftercare is needed after a dental implant?

It’s normal to see some swelling, bruising or bleeding where your implants have been fitted. In most cases, everyday painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen will be enough to manage any discomfort.

Your dental surgeon will normally suggest avoiding hot food and drinks for a day or so and to eat mainly soft foods. For the first week, you’ll also usually be told to avoid brushing the area where implants have been fitted. Instead, most dentists recommend using a chlorhexidine-based mouthwash.

Chlorhexidine is a type of antiseptic disinfectant that can help keep your mouth clean and prevent plaque from building up. You can buy these mouthwashes over the counter – for example, Corsodyl. You’ll be asked to attend a follow-up consultation, usually around a week or two weeks after treatment. This is to check how you’re healing, have stitches removed (if any) and discuss any concerns.

How long does treatment take?

Dental implant treatment can take anything between three and 12 months to complete. This variation is simply down to your own circumstances and how complex your needs are in the first place. For example, if you need a bone graft, this can increase the length of your treatment by several months. 

How much do tooth implants cost?

Broadly, dental implants can cost anything between £2,000 and £4,000. Ultimately, the price comes down to how many teeth you have missing and the extent of the work you need to be done, so you could pay even more.

Your dentist should take you through your treatment plan, including the cost, before any work begins. Private dental practices will also normally offer payment plans so you can cover the cost in instalments.

If you’re considering all-on-four treatment, you should know that this is considerably more expensive compared to other dental implants. Prices for a single jaw range from £11,000 to over £16,000, while the cost of treatment for both your upper and lower jaw could set you back even more.

Are NHS dental implants available?

Generally, no, implants are not available on the NHS. If the NHS is willing to fund treatment, there must be a clear medical or clinical need (for example, if you’ve lost teeth through mouth cancer or trauma). But even if the need is proven, you may be offered standard dentures or bridges instead of implants.

In most cases, if you want dental implants, you’ll need to have this done privately.

How can I get free dental implants?

NHS dental care is only free if you meet certain criteria. This includes:

  • Children under 18 or under 19 if they’re still in full-time education.
  • Pregnant women or women who have given birth within the last 12 months.
  • Anyone receiving certain state benefits such as income support, Pension Credit or Child Tax Credit.
  • Anyone on a low income who has an HC2 or HC3 certificate.

Even if you qualify for free dental care, implants aren’t always an option. NHS treatments will usually be limited by budget, and regular dentures and bridges may be offered first. Also, waiting lists for NHS dental treatment are long, and you may not get the tailored treatment plans that private practices usually provide.

Does dental insurance cover the cost of teeth implants?

Teeth implants are typically considered cosmetic as (cheaper) alternatives are available. Because of this, dental insurance plans generally don’t cover dental implants but will often cover standard bridges or dentures. Some dental plans cover implants, but you’ll usually have to subscribe to a premium dental package to benefit from this.

If your policy includes dental implants, just be aware that your provider may limit your claim. So, if dental implant treatment is something you want protection for, it’s worth checking policies carefully before committing to a plan.  

If you want to learn more about what dental insurance plans offer, you can contact us, and we’ll put you in touch with a regulated broker. They’ll be able to explain the options available and offer advice based on what you want and your budget.

Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.

Chris Steele
Founder and Editor

Chris is our resident private health insurance and healthcare expert. He has over a decade of experience writing about private medical insurance and treatment. He's Chartered Insurance Institute qualified and is regularly quoted by the national press.