Over time, the titanium in a dental implant fuses with the bone (a process called “osseointegration”), thereby holding the implant in place. This fusion also prevents the type of bone damage that is sometimes seen with dentures or bridges. And, because they are mostly metallic, they don’t decay like natural teeth sometimes do. Implants are better and more durable than other options for restoring lost teeth, including bridges and dentures. They are stable within the mouth, comfortable, convenient and aesthetically pleasing.
Whether an implant will succeed or fail depends in part on the oral surgeon’s skill. Other factors include the quality and quantity of bone available at the site, along with the patient’s oral hygiene and overall health. In general, implants boast an excellent 5-year success rate which is reported to be as high as 95%. Unfortunately, things do occasionally go wrong, so let’s discuss some potential problems.
To begin with, this is a surgical procedure. That means you might experience the normal but unpleasant types of discomfort that can accompany any dental surgery. These discomforts include swelling or bruising, minor bleeding and temporary pain. If any of these post-surgical issues persist or worsen after a few days, you might need some antibiotics or pain medication, so contact your oral surgeon.
In addition to temporary discomfort, the surgery carries some risks, just like other types of surgery. Fortunately, these risks do not occur often. They include the possibility of an infection at the site, damage to nearby teeth or blood vessels, nerve damage resulting in ongoing numbness, tingling or pain, and sinus problems if an implant in the upper jaw inadvertently impinges on a sinus cavity.
Although they are infrequent, failed implants are nonetheless possible. An implant has failed if it falls out, shifts, loosens or breaks off, or is associated with bone loss greater than 1.0 millimeter in the first year or 0.2 millimeter in each succeeding year. Most problems that ultimately result in implant failure are associated with an inability of the implant to osseointegrate (fuse with the jawbone) in the proper way. Patients who have poor oral hygiene or overall health, along with patients who smoke or have chronic health conditions like diabetes or hypertension, are all considered to be at increased risk for problems.
A condition called peri-implantitis is one of the most common problems. Characterized by tissue swelling and/or inflammation near the site, peri-implantitis is caused by a bacterial infection. Severe cases can cause bone damage or loss and result in a failed implant due to poor osseointegration. In fact, peri-implantitis is the most common cause of failure. Treatment involves cleaning the implantation site, smoothing the implant surface to reduce potential buildups of plaque, taking prescription antibiotics, rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash, and maintaining good oral hygiene.
Loose implants are another problem. They can be caused by one of two things – a failure to osseointegrate properly, or the implant being improperly placed. In other cases, problems such as breakage can occur. Loose or broken dental implants must be replaced. In some cases, the re-implantation must be delayed until the surrounding tissues have healed.
Nerve damage at the implantation site can be caused by placing an implant close to a nerve. In some cases, nerve damage causes persistent numbness or tingling, but other patients experience excruciating pain. Obviously, if the patient is in severe pain the implant must be surgically removed and replaced.
An implant in the upper jaw can potentially disturb a sinus cavity. The sinus problems that can result may also require the implant to be removed and replaced.
Unlike organ transplants, dental implants have no issues with potential tissue rejection. Dental implants are made of artificial, biologically-compatible materials which have been tested over several years. They consist primarily of titanium and other metals, so antigen-antibody responses of the type that can be responsible for organ rejection are not possible. Likewise, dental implant procedures have never been shown to be specifically injurious or harmful to a patient’s health.
Follow your dentist’s instructions before and after your procedure. Your dental implant is almost sure to succeed if you’re healthy and maintain good oral hygiene.