Since their introduction in 1965, dental implants have remained the gold standard of missing teeth replacement. They are a long-term solution that provides natural-looking and functional alternatives for missing teeth.
Despite their many advantages over conventional tooth replacements, one potential complication patients should be aware of is bone loss.
Dental implants and bone loss have an uncomfortable relationship. To learn more, let's explore what causes bone loss, why it affects the longevity of an implant-based restoration, and what you can do to prevent it.
To understand why bone loss occurs after implant surgery, it's important to know how the implant process works.
An implant is essentially a titanium post inserted directly into the jawbone. When the implant is first placed, it isn't particularly stable. However, over a period of several months, bone tissue surrounding the implant starts to fuse with the titanium post in a process known as osseointegration.
Once complete, bone-to-implant fusion creates a stable foundation or platform to support a single crown, a dental bridge, or (as part of a series of implants) an entire arch of replacement teeth.
Essentially, each post is designed to become a permanent fixture in the mouth. However, there are certain situations where a tooth implant can and will fail.
One of the most common reasons for implant failure is a condition known as peri-implantitis. It's a type of gum disease that affects the bone tissue surrounding the implant. If left untreated, the problem can cause bone loss, severely weakening the implant's stability.
Ultimately, when an implant is weakened sufficiently, it will fail.
According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, the US has 30.8 million smokers. If you're a smoker, it's important to know that you will be advised to quit before undergoing an implant-based restoration – or, at the very least, advised to stop until the implant has stabilized in the jaw.
So why is this?
Just like dental implants and bone loss, dental implants and smoking also have an uncomfortable relationship.
Essentially, smoking causes harm to a newly placed implant in two ways.
Firstly, there is evidence to support the fact that smoking impairs osseointegration.
Research suggests that cigarette smoke causes an alteration in the compound of the bone matrix by changing the balance of bone-building and bone-dissolving cells. These are known as osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Any imbalance typically leads to subnormal or slowed bone formation rates. Alternatively, it can severely weaken the bone leading to bone loss.
Secondly, in addition to the many chemicals and heavy metals found in tobacco smoke, research shows that more than 700 variants of pathogens or live bacteria are also present.
Increasing studies suggest the main culprit of peri-implantitis is anaerobic bacteria – germs that survive or grow where there is no oxygen. Many types of anaerobic bacteria are found in tobacco smoke and can be passed into the mouth when smoke is inhaled.
The result is an increased possibility of developing peri-implantitis which, in turn, can lead to bone loss.
Unfortunately, dental implants are not a 'set-and-forget' procedure. Just like natural teeth, they need regular maintenance. Failure to carry out thorough brushing and flossing can lead to gum disease, which, if left, can cause gum shrinkage and, eventually, bone loss.
If you notice any signs of gum disease, including bleeding while brushing, red or swollen gums, or bad breath, talk to your dentist sooner rather than later. Early treatment of gum disease prevents bone loss and other complications like dental implant failure.
So now we know what causes bone loss and how it affects implant longevity, the question is, what can you do to prevent bone loss after dental implant surgery and prolong the life of your implant?
Here are some top tips.
During the recovery phase, you'll be given a list of aftercare instructions by your dentist. These include taking antibiotics, using mouth rinses to prevent bacteria, imposing regular and thorough cleaning routines, and partaking in certain dietary restrictions until the implant has stabilized in the jaw.
These instructions are geared to minimize complications while keeping bacteria at bay that may otherwise trigger bone loss.
Excessive alcohol can increase the risk of avascular necrosis. AVN is caused when the blood vessels become blocked. Once blocked, any essential nutrients needed for bone growth are unable to reach the implant site. So, like smoking, alcohol will slow down or even halt the bone fusion process.
In one study, a dental implant patient drank alcohol just one day after implant surgery resulting in significant post-op complications.
Photo attribution: image by Rochak Shukla on Freepik
If patients want to avoid bone loss or bone growth complications, they are advised to stop drinking alcohol until the implant fully stabilises in the jaw.
As mentioned, one fundamental way to halt bone loss after dental implant placement is to prevent bacteria. So make a lifelong commitment to your newly placed teeth by initiating thorough and regular brushing, flossing, and ongoing dental visits. These processes should be part of your routine for the rest of your life.
A lifelong commitment to the best oral care is the only way to prevent gum disease, bone loss, and eventual dental implant failure.
Dental implants and bone loss occur in approximately 10% of implant cases. Since around 5 million implants are placed in the US annually, that's 500,000 cases of implant failure due to avoidable bone loss.
If you don't want to be part of that statistic, understanding the causes and what to do to prevent the problem can make all the difference.
If you'd like to learn more about dental implants and whether you're a good candidate, contact the team at Chesterfield Dentistry. Dr Akinwande offers a free consultation where she will take time to answer any questions or concerns so you can make a fully informed decision.
Call 314 -936-3621 or book your no-obligation consultation online today.