If you want to replace one or more missing teeth, you might be considering dental implants as a long-term alternative to a fixed bridge or removable denture.
Dental implants have been widely used by dentists in Australia for decades, and the procedure has a very high success rate when it's provided by a suitably qualified and experienced dentist. Still, it's wise to know about any possible risks and side effects when you're considering any treatment, especially one that involves oral surgery, so you can take all steps possible to minimise them.
Read this overview of possible dental implant problems to get an idea of what the risks are and how they can sometimes be avoided. Your dentist can answer any questions you have during your dental implant consultation so you can feel confident that you're making a fully informed decision.
Dental implant risk factors
Not everyone is a candidate for dental implants. Your dentist needs to examine your mouth and jaws to tell if you're eligible for an implant treatment or if there may be a higher risk of implant failure than normal.
Common reasons why someone may not be suitable for dental implants are:
- you have poor oral hygiene
- you smoke
- your jaw is too small
- you have gum disease
- you have another health condition that affects your eligibility
Some of these risk factors may be in your control and can be managed to lower your risk of implant failure, or you may choose to continue with a treatment despite the risks.
Poor oral hygiene
Good brushing and flossing, a healthy diet and regular dental visits are important for keeping your teeth and gums healthy and for supporting a dental implant. You may not be a candidate for implants if you have poor oral hygiene habits that could lead to implant failure, unless you commit to improve.
If you smoke while your gum is healing from implant surgery, this will slow down the healing process and make implants more likely to fail. The rate of dental implant failure in smokers can be as high as 20%, but this can be reduced if you commit to quit for at least two months after your implant is placed and one week before.
Standard dental implants are surgically placed in the jaw, in place of a missing tooth root. They rely on the underlying jaw bone being healthy and dense enough to provide long term support. If your jaw is smaller or has less bone mass, this may not offer the support needed.
If this is the case, your dentist may discuss a bone grafting procedure to build up your jaw bone. A smaller jaw might also be suitable if you're replacing a whole arch of teeth with implants, as these can be supported by other bone.
Gingivitis or gum disease is a common oral health problem, but one that can make you ineligible for dental implants until it's treated by a dentist or hygienist. If gingivitis develops into more serious periodontitis, this can damage the gums and the jaw bone, causing implants to come loose.
Other health conditions
Certain ongoing health conditions could mean that dental implants aren't a safe option for you, or that there may be a higher risk of failure, so it's important to tell your dentist about any conditions you have or medication you're taking.
These include bone and joint disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, diabetes and other conditions that affect healing.
What are the risks of dental implant surgery?
Problems with dental implants may be noticed within days of the procedure, or they can take months or years to develop. The most common complications from dental implant surgery are:
- allergic reactions
- sinus problems
- nerve or tooth damage
- implant movements
- implant rejection
Normal pain, swelling and bleeding are to be expected for a few days after the treatment, which may be managed with over-the-counter medication. But if these continue for longer than a week, or you have other unusual symptoms, you should make an appointment with your dentist.
Placing a dental implant in your jaw is a surgical procedure. Dentists and oral surgeons are required to follow strict infection control protocols, but there's still a small chance of bacteria entering the gum and causing an infection after surgery. You'll be at greater risk of infections if you smoke, have bad oral hygiene or an autoimmune disease.
Many dental implants are made from titanium alloy, a metal that can cause allergic reactions such as swelling and loss of taste in rare cases. Your dentist may be able to offer an alternative implant material if you know that you have an allergy.
A dental implant that replaces a tooth in the upper jaw may perforate the sinus membrane and enter the sinus cavity, leading to infections. This is less likely to happen if your dentist is experienced in placing upper jaw implants.
Nerve or tooth damage
If an implant is placed too close to the tooth's nerve, this can damage the tissue, causing the area to feel numb or tingling sensations in other parts of the mouth or face. The surrounding teeth may also be scratched or chipped during a careless implant placement.
Once an implant is placed, the jaw bone will slowly heal around it over a period of several months, holding it firmly in place. During this time, impacts to the mouth may cause an implant to get dislodged slightly. This strains the implant and jaw and makes failure more likely.
Placing an immediate crown or bridge over an implant before it's started to bond with the jaw can cause it to shift. This is why dentists normally place a temporary restoration while the integration is taking place.
Sometimes, there's no obvious cause of implant failure, but the body can reject an implant anyway. Pain or swelling around the implant, difficulty chewing or signs of a fever could all be symptoms of implant rejection or another serious problem that needs the attention of a doctor or emergency dentist.
How to lower your risks
The success rate of dental implant treatments is between 90% and 95% or even higher with a good dentist, but that still leaves 5% to 10% of cases where implants may fail. This failure rate can be decreased when:
- you follow your dentist's advice during your recovery
- your implant treatment is planned carefully
- your treatment is provided by an experienced dentist using high quality materials
Follow your dentist's advice
Taking your dentist's advice during your recovery period will help your mouth to heal from implant surgery and lower the risk of anything going wrong. This may include:
- avoiding strenuous activity
- not eating hard foods for a few days
- not smoking for at least two months
- maintaining good oral hygiene
- drinking plenty of water
- visiting your dentist for follow-up appointments
Careful treatment planning
However many teeth you're having replaced, dental implants are a complex procedure that need to be planned with care to minimise your risk of complications.
Your treatment plan should be personalised for your individual needs right from the start, with your dentist performing a comprehensive assessment and checking your medical history to confirm that you're eligible for implant treatment.
Your dentist can then use x-rays and other imaging systems to pinpoint the precise position where your implant should go for the greatest stability. It may be the case that other treatments are needed before implants can be placed, such as a bone graft to increase the size of your jaw or a sinus lift to avoid infections.
Choose an experienced implant dentist
Last but not least, you need to be confident that the dentist or oral surgeon providing your implant treatment is an expert in the field.
'Implant specialist' is not a recognised title in Australia, the way orthodontist or endodontist is, but you can check your dentist's credentials by finding out how many years of experience they have providing the treatment, how many procedures they complete each year on average, and what their success rate is.
A fully qualified implant dentist knows how many implants are needed for each case, where they should be positioned and how to lower the risks to you. You should also check whether a dental clinic is QIP accredited to give you peace of mind that a high standard of care and safety is being followed.
Book a consultation for dental implants on the Gold Coast
If you're considering dental implants to replace any number of missing teeth, call our team at Robina Town Dental to book a consultation with our implant dentist.
Dr Alistair Henry has completed further education and training in the fields of implant dentistry and other oral surgical procedures, so your implant treatment will be in safe hands.
Healthline. What to Know About Dental Implant Complications and Failure [Online] 2018 [Accessed December 2020] Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/dental-implant-problems
Healthdirect. Dental implant procedure [Online] 2019 [Accessed December 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-implant