More than 3 million Americans have dental implants, according to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID). Patients with implants have an artificial, titanium tooth root surgically implanted in their jaw. Once the implant fuses with the bone through a process called osseointegration, an artificial tooth (crown) can be placed where a natural tooth is missing.
The majority of implants are successful. The AAID reports a success rate of 98 percent, and a study published in the Journal of Periodontal & Implant Science found that 97 percent of implants lasted long-term. However, sometimes dental implant problems occur. Fortunately, they can almost always be treated by a dentist or dental specialist.
Problems During the Healing Period
For an implant to properly adhere, it needs to be surrounded by healthy gums and bone. Many factors can affect an implant's ability to stay attached to the bone.
For example, the implant can become loose during the healing process after surgery. When this happens, there is usually no pain or infection. The patient may have a limited amount of bone to cover the dental implant. This is especially common with implants placed near the molars in the upper jaw, on extraction sites, on sites where there has been a bone graft, in narrow ridges and in the lower front of the jaw, because those areas often have poor quality of bone. Patients who smoke or who have poorly controlled diabetes may also be more likely to have issues with the bone involved in their implant.
Problems During Use
An implant may develop issues once it is in use after the healing period. If the bone cannot handle the forces being applied to it, the implant can become loose. To treat this issue, your dentist or dental specialist will remove your implant and allow the bone to fill in the area. This a surgical procedure that may require bone grafting and stitches, and you will likely be put under local anesthesia. If possible, the dentist will replace the implant once the area has strengthened.
Bone loss can also lead to a loose implant. Individuals who have lost their teeth because of gum disease are at higher risk for bone loss around the implant.
There may be excess space between the implant and the adjacent teeth because the implant may not be the exact same size or shape as the tooth that was lost. This can cause food to get stuck between the implant and the natural teeth. Because implants do not move, the crown may need to be replaced to remove any spaces.
More severe dental implant problems can arise if the implant becomes infected. Peri-implantitis is a disease that causes loss of the bone supporting the implant and usually requires removal of the implant. In some cases, the implant can be restored.
An implant has several components: the fixture placed into the bone, the abutment that holds the dental work in place and the prosthesis, which may be a crown, bridge or denture that serves as the tooth replacement. Even though the abutment is made from strong materials — often gold, titanium or zirconia — it can break, as can the screw that attaches the abutment to the implant body. All dental components made of metals or ceramic can wear down and fracture, including the crown. If part of your implant breaks or fractures, your dentist can assess the degree of the problem and determine what treatment is required.
If you grind your teeth, you may damage the crown on your implant. Your dentist can help you find a night guard to limit the effects of tooth grinding on the crown.
Managing Your Implant
Dental implants are highly effective, but an implant does not necessarily last a lifetime. Like natural teeth, implants can develop problems over time (with the exception of decay and cavities). Before you commit to an implant, make sure you set realistic expectations for the procedure with your dentist. The implant may cost several thousand dollars, though the amount depends on your region, dental provider and insurance.
To keep your implant in good condition, maintain great oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly to proactively manage any potential problems.