Although dental implants have a very impressive success rate – more than 95 percent, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons – that doesn’t change the fact that a small percentage of them can fail. Perhaps the most common problem dental patients encounter is discovering that an implant has become loose.

So what can cause a loose dental implant? Here, we’ll outline the most common causes of this problem.

  • Failed Osseointegration  – When an implant is placed into the jawbone, bone tissue generally grows around the implant, bonding it tightly to the surrounding bone, a process called osseointegration. If the body’s healing response is compromised or undue pressure is placed on the implant during healing, osseointegration can fail. Additionally, an implant that is placed improperly or has been inserted in an area without enough healthy bone to support it often cannot form an adequate bond, causing a loose implant. These are issues that occur soon after the initial implant placement.
  • Infection – Another common cause of implant loosening is an infection called peri-implantitis. Similar to gum disease that occurs around natural teeth, peri-implantitis happens when bacteria invades the gum tissue surrounding the implant. That invasion can occur during implant placement surgery in some cases, but is more common months or even years after, caused by poor dental hygiene or, sometimes, by the cement used to secure crowns onto the abutments. The result is inflammation in the gum tissue, which can lead to loss of bone around the implant, causing it to loosen.
  • Overloading – This is when newly placed implants are subjected to too much pressure, inhibiting osseointegration. It can occur with immediate load implants, where prosthetic teeth are fitted at the same time that implants are placed, or with implants that are disturbed during the healing process – pressure placed on protruding abutments for instance.
  • Loose, Worn Or Poorly Made Prosthetics –  Prosthetics, including crowns, bridges or dentures, can loosen their supporting implants if they are unstable due to screws or cement that have come loose, wear or poor initial fitting, causing them to rock or move as you chew or bite. That movement can cause undue stress on the implant itself, which can break its bond with the jawbone and cause it to loosen.

So what to do if your implant is loose? Make an appointment to have it examined immediately by your dentist or oral surgeon. In many cases, dental patients who notice movement in implant-based dental restorations will find, upon professional examination, that the movement stems from a loose abutment or crown, rather than the implant itself. However, since these issues can lead to implant damage or failure quite quickly, having them corrected as soon as possible is important.

For the patient who finds that the implant itself is the problem, immediate treatment can, in some cases, save it. However, most implants that have become loose will require removal to prevent damage to the jawbone. When that happens, a new implant can generally be placed after a healing period, although bone grafting may be necessary to ensure a stability.

If you want more information about dental implants, contact our office area at (202) 386-7100.