Although dental implant surgery (DIS) has a high success rate, it is not suitable for everyone. It also has the potential to cause long-term complications.

A dental implant is a long-term replacement for a missing tooth. The implant itself is a titanium screw that a dental surgeon screws into the jawbone. Over several weeks, the implant and jawbone fuse together. Once fused, the implant can support an artificial tooth or crown.

According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID), around 3 million people in the United States have dental implants. Dental implants are also growing in popularity. The AAID state that the number of people receiving them is increasing by around 500,000 per year.

This article outlines the potential complications and long-term issues that can arise as a result of DIS. It also provides information on implant success rates, aftercare, and recovery time.

A woman speaks with her dentist after surgery, as she hopes to avoid dental implant problems.Share on Pinterest
While dental implants can be beneficial, surgery can pose a risk.

There are a number of potential complications that can occur following DIS. The sections below will outline some of these.

Common problems

Below are some of the more common problems that may develop following DIS.

Infection

People should take good care of their dental implants to reduce the risk of infection. It is vital to follow the dental surgeon’s advice regarding aftercare.

Treatment for an infection depends on the severity and location of the infection. For example, a bacterial infection in the gum may require antibiotics or a soft tissue graft, while a bacterial infection in the bone may require removal of the infected bone tissue and possibly the implant, followed by a bone and soft tissue graft.

Gum recession

In some cases, a person may find that the gum tissue around the implant begins to recede. This can lead to inflammation and pain. Getting a prompt assessment from a dentist is essential to prevent the removal of the implant.

Loose implant

In the first few weeks following DIS, the dental implant will be growing into and fusing with the jawbone. This process is called osseointegration, and it is crucial to the long-term success of the implant. This process can take many months.

If the implant fails to fuse with the bone, the dental surgeon may remove it. A person may be able to reattempt the implant procedure once the area has healed.

Nerve or tissue damage

Sometimes, a dental surgeon may inadvertently place a dental implant too close to a nerve. This can cause long-term numbness, tingling, or pain.

A 2012 study found that DIS-induced nerve damage can lead to a decline in quality of life.

A nerve or tissue problem requires immediate attention. Injury to the inferior alveolar nerve (IAN) in the lower jaw can be particularly serious. Some possible symptoms of an IAN injury include:

  • persistent numbness on the side of the implant, including the lower lip and chin
  • persistent pain or discomfort
  • tingling, tickling, or burning sensations in the gums and skin

Less common problems

DIS may also result in some less common problems, such as sinus issues and damage to the dental implant itself.

Sinus issues

Upper jaw dental implants can protrude into the sinus cavities, causing swelling of the sinuses. This is known as sinusitis.

Some potential symptoms of sinusitis include:

Damage from excessive force

As with any tooth, excessive force or impact can cause a dental implant to crack or become loose.

Some people may apply excessive force to their dental implant without even realizing it. For example, some people grind, or brux, their teeth while sleeping. People who are prone to this behavior may need to wear a mouth shield to prevent damage to the implant as well as their natural teeth.

Peri-implantitis is a type of gum disease that causes loss of the bone supporting the implant. It develops due to chronic inflammation at the site of the implant.

According to one 2017 review, peri-implantitis can take about 5 years to progress and cause symptoms. These symptoms typically include bleeding or swelling around the site of the dental implant.

There is also a rare possibility of the body rejecting a dental implant. Based on a 2019 review, researchers are investigating the risks of using dental implants made from titanium or other metals. Some people have a rare metal sensitivity that causes their body to reject metal implants. The researchers recommend that people undergo metal sensitivity testing before receiving such implants.

According to the AAID, dental implants are a good solution for people who are replacing teeth damaged by severe decay or trauma.

However, two potential problems regarding dental implants are suitability and success rate. The sections below will discuss these in more detail.

Suitability

One key problem with dental implants is that they are not suitable for everyone.

To receive dental implants, a person must have good overall health. They must also have healthy gums and a healthy jawbone, as these structures will be supporting the dental implant throughout the person’s lifetime.

Dental implants are not suitable for children, as their facial bones are still growing.

Success rate

Sometimes, a dental implant may fail. Healthcare professionals categorize implant failure into one of two categories: early failure (which occurs before the insertion of the implant) or late failure (which occurs after the implant has been in place for a period of time).

Dental implants have a success rate of around 95%. However, they may have a reduced success rate among people who:

The best way to ensure the success of a dental implant is to follow the aftercare advice the surgeon provides.

After undergoing DIS, a person should avoid hot food and drinks while numb and stick to a soft food diet for at least a few days. It is also important to avoid strenuous exercise for 2–3 days to prevent increased blood flow and associated swelling of the area.

As with a person’s natural teeth, an implant and the tissues surrounding it require regular cleaning. A person should floss the area at least once per day after the gums have healed and use interdental brushes to access areas that are more difficult to reach.

People should also schedule regular dental check-ups and appointments for cleaning areas below the gum line.

People who smoke may wish to consider quitting, as this will reduce the risk of complications from DIS.

Following DIS, a dentist may prescribe antibiotics to help prevent infection. A person may also require an over-the-counter or prescription pain reliever to help alleviate any pain.

Any swelling or bruising should subside within a few days of the surgery. However, if pain and swelling persist beyond a week, the person should book a follow-up dental appointment.

The process of initial healing takes a few weeks, and full osseointegration can take months. A person should seek medical attention if their dental implants begin to move slightly or continue to hurt after a few weeks. Addressing the problem quickly is crucial to preventing complications.

Simple DIS usually only requires local anesthetics, so most people tend to have a relatively short recovery time.

However, some people may experience the following symptoms after DIS:

  • pain at the site of the dental implant
  • minor bleeding
  • bruising of the gums or skin
  • swelling of the gums or face

A dentist or oral surgeon will advise that the person gets plenty of rest following the procedure. They may also recommend a temporary diet of soft foods and the application of an ice pack to the affected part of the face to help alleviate inflammation and swelling.

Discomfort levels may vary from person to person and depending on the number of implants the surgeon placed. However, taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen should be sufficient to alleviate any pain. Pain medications are usually necessary for 2–3 days after the procedure.

The average time it takes for a person to heal after DIS varies, from around 2 months to 6 months. Once healing is complete, the dental surgeon can place an artificial tooth onto the implant.

DIS is not suitable for everyone. A person will need to undergo an extensive dental examination for a surgeon to determine whether or not they are a suitable candidate for the procedure.

Dental implants have a high success rate of around 95%, and they lead to an increased quality of life for many people.

However, dental implants can cause complications, such as infections, gum recession, and nerve and tissue damage. A person should see their dental surgeon if they develop any worrying symptoms following DIS.