Although your dentist will give you a detailed explanation of each step involved in receiving a dental implant, one of the first things you'll learn is that the process can be drawn-out (and necessarily so). Once implants are placed in the alveolar ridge of your jaw, a healing process called osseointegration begins—which is when organic tissues heal around an artificial component, locking it into place and allowing it to be functional. Once this has happened (which takes several months), the prosthetic tooth is added to the implant. So why does your dentist intend to fit a prosthetic tooth as soon as the implant has been placed?
Some patients are eligible for immediate implants. This is when the permanent prosthetic tooth has been prepared prior to implant placement so that it can be attached to the implant during the same session. Osseointegration will still take place, and it's a case of the patient being diligent in avoiding excessive pressure on the prosthetic tooth during the process. Immediate implants are traditionally reserved for patients with healthy bone and no relevant dental issues which might compromise treatment. Even if you're not receiving an immediate implant, your implant may be fitted with a crown as soon as it has been placed. This is not your final dental prosthesis.
It's common for a provisional prosthesis to be fitted immediately after implant placement. This will be to almost the same dimensions of the tooth it's replacing (more about that shortly), and color-matched to your surrounding teeth; however, it's likely to be constructed from acrylic materials, as opposed to your final prosthesis, which will be porcelain—or a comparable material that offers the necessary durability and esthetics. But what's the point of receiving a provisional prosthesis?
A Cosmetic Solution
The primary purpose of a provisional prosthesis is little more than cosmetic. The precise time frame for osseointegration varies, but it will be at least a few months. Your dentist doesn't want you to live with such an obvious gap in a smile for these months if it can be avoided, and the provisional prosthesis means that this issue can easily be avoided. While the provisional prosthesis is almost the same dimensions of the tooth it's replacing, it may be manufactured with a fractionally reduced vertical dimension. This ensures it does not make regular contact with the teeth in the opposing dental arch, which means that osseointegration can occur undisturbed.
Once your dentist has concluded that your osseointegration has been a success, the provisional prosthesis will be replaced with its permanent cousin. It has served its purpose, and that purpose has allowed you to have a natural-looking smile until such time as your permanent natural-looking smile is possible.
For more information on dental implants, contact a dentist near you.