Dental implants have become a common method of tooth replacement. According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, there are 3 million people in the U.S. who have implants, and that number grows by 500,000 each year. While implants provide reliable replacements for one or more missing teeth, it's important that you take proper care of them to ensure they last a long time. Complications such as peri-implantitis, an infection in the tissues around an implant, can develop if you don't clean the implant area thoroughly.
Signs and Symptoms of Implant Infection
A dental implant is designed to replace a missing tooth and provide a patient with a functional bite and the ability to chew. An implant has several parts, including a titanium artificial root and a crown attached to the top. While the dental implant looks like a real tooth, it cannot develop a cavity the way a natural tooth would. However, that doesn't mean that the implant isn't affected by plaque buildup. In fact, bacteria accumulation around the implant can lead to an infection in the surrounding tissue, which is called peri-implantitis. More than half of all implants may be vulnerable to peri-implantitis, reports a study in Head & Face Medicine. If left untreated, the infection can lead to the loss of the implant.
The American Academy of Periodontology defines peri-implantitis as gum inflammation around the implant, causing deterioration in the tissue and bone supporting the dental implant. The gums may feel tender, and there may be some bleeding when brushing and caring for the area. Patients who smoke, have diabetes or have been diagnosed with gum disease may be at a higher risk of developing this infection. It's important to talk to your dental provider about any concerns you have regarding your implant and report any changes you may notice between dental visits.
If you develop peri-implantitis, there are steps you and your dental professional can take to help resolve the infection and avoid implant failure. Therapy to treat this type of infection is similar to that used to treat periodontitis, or gum infection, reports the study in Head & Face Medicine. Because both infections are caused by bacteria buildup, the treatments aim to eliminate bacteria in the area and restore the tissue.
According to the study in Head & Face Medicine, moderate infection around a dental implant can typically be treated using conservative methods such as antibiotics, which can either be given as a pill or placed directly on the infected area around the implant. A dental professional may also choose to use laser therapy to destroy the bacteria around the implant. For more serious infections, surgical treatment may be necessary. After thoroughly cleaning out the site around the implant, a dental professional may graft bone or gum tissue to strengthen the area that has been weakened by the infection. While this option is more involved, it can save the implant. After treatment, you can expect to have follow-up appointments throughout the following months so your dental professional can track the progress of your healing and ensure the implant is stable.
How to Care for Your Implant
Because plaque can accumulate at the base of the implant just like it can at the base of a natural tooth, it is very important to take care of the implant area by brushing twice daily and flossing once a day. Depending on the location and number of implants you have, you may consider using other oral hygiene aids, such as water flossers or interdental brushes. Make sure to see your dentist routinely to ensure your gums and bone are healthy. Note that smoking with an implant might increase your risk of implant failure. Luckily, taking good care of your implant can help it last for years. Approximately 82 percent of dental implants can last for 16 years or longer, according to the Head & Face Medicine study.
A dental implant is a great choice for tooth replacement, and it can last you for over a decade if cared for properly. By following the recommendations of your dentist, you'll be able to enjoy a full and healthy smile.