Why do dental implants fail and what is the failure rate?

The good news is that dental implants have around a 95% success rate, which has increased over the past two decades as the technology and techniques have improved and patients have learned how to properly care for their implants. Success depends in part on the dentist’s training and experience and on the screening of appropriate candidates. Good general health is important, heavy smokers are a higher risk, and patients with diabetes, advanced osteoporosis, heart disease, or autoimmune disorders might not do well. Some medications, such as bisphosphonates to treat osteoporosis, can raise the risk, and patients who have had neck or head radiation are more likely to experience failure. The dentist also needs to be sure there is enough underlying jaw borne to support the implant (if not, a bone graft may be needed), there is sufficient gum tissue in the area, and that there are no infections adjacent to the planned implant site. Patients who grind their teeth should wear a customized night guard to avoid putting too much pressure on the implants. A successful outcome also depends on how well the patient takes care after the surgery, especially with flossing and brushing and regular cleaning by a dental hygienist.

How long do dental implants last?

If all the steps have been taken to screen the candidate (for general health, high-risk conditions and habits, use of certain medications, and sufficient supporting bone and gum) and the dentist performs the surgery with skill, much depends on how well the patient cares for the implant site and follows good oral health practices. But in almost all cases, the implant can be expected to last 10-20 years if the patient continues to take care of the implant area and has a dental hygienist provide professional cleaning on a recommended basis.

What are the advantages of dental implants?

Dental implants’ most important function is to stop adjacent teeth from leaning into the space where a tooth has been lost, a natural process that causes gaps to occur, bacteria to collect in these pockets, and serious periodontal disease or gum infection to start. That can result in further loss of teeth, but implants can stop this. But there are other advantages: it is easier to chew, one doesn’t have to wear uncomfortable removable dentures, the ability to speak can improve if one previously had poor-fitting dentures, and implants appear like natural teeth. Self-confidence can also result from improved appearance of the face, since a full set of teeth supports the lips (which might otherwise appear too thin) and the cheeks (so they don’t look hollow).

How painful is a dental implant?

Dentists today have a wide variety of ways to administer anesthetics, including a small pin prick for a local injection, a topical numbing solution, a mild dose of an oral sedation pill, a stronger version that produces drowsiness, an intravenous drip, and nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas). With modern dental surgical tools and state-of-the-art implants and crowns (the top part that appears to be a natural tooth), the implant process can be virtually painless.

What are the alternatives to dental implants?

The primary goal of a dental implant is to keep the teeth aligned properly when one is lost, to prevent periodontal disease that would lead to further loss. Having a full set of teeth is also important for comfortable chewing and self-confidence. Not everyone, however, can have implants, for health or financial reasons. One of the best affordable and quicker alternatives would be a dental bridge made of either porcelain, precious or non-precious metal alloys, or plastic. A fixed bridge has an artificial tooth in the center to replace the lost tooth and is attached to the adjacent teeth. A removable version, called a partial, is not as strong but easy to clean. Removable dentures (partials) can also provide the health benefits and functions as implants, although both partials and bridges tend to last 5-10 years, as opposed to 10-20 for implants.

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