Dental Implant Problems

Quickly becoming the medical standard for the long-term replacement of a missing tooth, dental implants are growing in popularity. Based on figures from the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, there are roughly 3 million dental implant patients in the United States with the number growing by an additional 500,000 annually.

Surgery to place a dental implant involves an oral surgeon opening the patient’s gums and inserting the titanium implant into the jawbone. Over the course of several weeks, the implant fuses with the jawbone. Once fully fused, an artificial tooth or crown can be mounted onto the implant.

Despite its high rate of success, dental implant surgery (DIS) is not suitable for all patients and long-term complications are possible. This article will examine the potential complications that could arise from DIS as well as information on success rate, recovery time, and aftercare.

Common Surgical Complications

  • Infection: As is the case with any surgical procedure, infection is always a possibility. To minimize the risk of infection, patients should strictly adhere to the oral surgeon’s aftercare advice. Treating an infection will depend on its location and severity. A bacterial gum infection, for example, could require a soft tissue graft or antibiotics. Should a bacterial infection affect the bone tissue around the implant, both the infected tissue and implant may require removal followed by soft tissue and bone grafts.
  • Receding Gums: Some patients may notice the gum tissue surrounding the dental implant begin to recede leading to pain and inflammation. To prevent the implant from having to be removed, promptly getting a dentist to assess the situation is critical.
  • Loose Implant: During the initial few weeks post-implant surgery, the implant and jawbone will be fusing together. Known as osseointegration, this process can take several months and is vital to long-term success of the restoration. If the implant fails to properly fuse with the jawbone, it may become loose, and the oral surgeon may need to remove it. Should removal be necessary, it may be possible to reattempt the procedure after the implant area heals.
  • Tissue or Nerve Damage: Long-term tingling, numbness, or pain could result if the dental implant is inadvertently placed too close to a nerve by the oral surgeon. In these cases, immediate attention is needed as nerve or tissue injuries, particularly to the inferior alveolar nerve, can be serious.

Less Common Complications

  • Sinus Issues: Dental implants in the upper jaw can penetrate the sinus cavities leading to swelling. Known as sinusitis, symptoms can include:
      1. Yellow or green mucus
      2. Tenderness, swelling, or pain around the eyes, forehead, and cheeks
      3. Reduced sense of smell
      4. Sinus headaches
      5. Toothache
      6. Fever
      7. Bad Breath
  • Excessive Force Damage: Just like natural teeth, dental implants can crack or loosen with excessive force. Bruxism (grinding the teeth) is one way excessive force is placed on the implant and is often done subconsciously when sleeping. Wearing a mouth guard is often recommended in these cases to protect the implant and natural teeth.
  • Rejection: In rare cases, the patient’s body may reject a dental implant. Some patients have sensitivity to rare metals used in implants so studies are ongoing to evaluate the risk of using titanium or other metals. Patients with metal sensitivity are recommended to undergo sensitivity testing prior to undergoing implant surgery.

Dental Implants for Seniors