After I place an implant in my patient’s mouth, I expect it to last for a long time. However, many patients think that implants should last forever no matter what happens. While implants are predictable and work well for many people, they can still break and they can still develop infections. While this might seem like an obvious point, if either of these things happens, it is bad. The complicating factor is that when implants have problems they are generally much more difficult to fix than tooth problems. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure. The three ways that I recommend to minimize implant problems are to see the dentist on a regular basis, to clean the mouth well, and to protect the implant from destructive forces.
Seeing the dentist on a regular basis is important after having an implant placed to make sure that the implant is doing well and that the teeth around the implant are doing well. Implants can develop plaque at the same rate the teeth can and need to be cleaned otherwise the plaque build up can cause a gum infection around the implant. Gum infections on implants are actually worse than gum infections on teeth because teeth have natural defense mechanisms to protect against this type of bacterial invasion whereas implants do not. While there are ways to fix advanced gum infections on implants, I would rather avoid the problem all together. Also the mouth needs to be checked for cavities because if the teeth around the implants develop cavities and the infection travels into the bone, the implants can become infected and problems can arise. However, if the cavity is fixed in a timely manner, this can all be prevented.
The second part of maintaining an implant is having a better oral hygiene regime. Usually teeth are lost because of poor oral hygiene and habits, and therefore, new ones must be developed. Even if a person brushes and flosses daily but still has issues, I recommend different techniques and products to help keep the mouth clean. Generally I will recommend that all of my implant patients use a mouth wash called Peridex for the first seven days of every month. This mouthwash contains a medicine called chlorohexidine which is fantastic at killing bacteria. Second, I will recommend a prescription grade toothpaste that has a higher fluoride content to help prevent new cavities from forming. Last, I will recommend that the patient use take home whitening once per week for one hour as that helps further clean the mouth and also helps neutralize harmful acids. By doing these three things, it is possible to keep bacteria and plaque to a minimum and prevent new problems from arising.
The last part of maintaining an implant is to protect the implant from destructive forces. If a tooth is not lost due to decay or gum disease, it is often lost because it has been broken due to overloading of the tooth. Even though implants are made from strong titanium, they are not indestructible and the jaw muscles are strong enough to break them. While an implant with an infection on it can be fixed usually, an implant that has fractured needs to be removed and redone. To help prevent fracture, I will make a night guard for many of my patients. Often times before making a night guard, I want to rule out sleep apnea so sometimes I have patients do a home sleep test to make sure that will not cause an issue. While night time forces are more destructive than day time ones, if a patient has a bad habit such as gritting their teeth while driving, that also can overload the implant. While a mouth guard will not prevent these issues from happening, often times being aware of the problem helps prevent it.
Implants function much like teeth do, and caring for an implant is similar to caring for teeth. Maintenance though must be more for implants because implant problems are harder to fix than tooth problems. Despite this increased need for care, the vast majority of patients who have had implant done have had excellent results and gotten their smile and chewing back. If you need an implant to restore your mouth, please call us at 504-392-5104 and we will help you out.