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Most people know that gum disease can affect the life of their teeth, however, they are unaware of the effect it can have on their dental implants as well. We outline in this article how existing dental implants or new ones can be affected by it.

Dental implants are one of the most popular methods of tooth replacement in the world right now. They have been proven to be successful over a long period of time and they have become more affordable over time. They are still susceptible to failure, though, and one of the possible causes can be gum disease [1].

Can gum disease affect existing implants?

Gum disease or periodontitis can most certainly affect the longevity of implants [2]. Some people have the misconception that implants do not need anything to be taken care of once they have been inserted [3]. Implants are made of titanium so they cannot get decayed like regular teeth can, however, they are susceptible to gum disease. Getting that bleeding gums treatment may be more important than you think with implants in your mouth!

To understand why gum disease affects implants it is important to understand how dental implants function. Implants are drilled into the jaw bone and then allowed to heal. The relationship of the implants with the jaws is very similar to that of the natural teeth. As long as the bone around the implants remains intact, they will remain firm inside the body [4].

Gum disease starts out with inflammation of the superficial gums and then progresses to include the supporting structures of the teeth. As a result, the advanced stages of gum disease are characterized by bone loss. The same micro-organisms which colonize the teeth and cause bone loss can also colonize the implants and cause similar problems there as well [5].

This means that a well-integrated implant can become loose and fall out due to gum disease.

Can gum disease make it difficult to get new implants?

The answer to this question is also an emphatic yes. A person who has lost all of his/her teeth to gum disease is a very poor candidate for dental implants. The reasons are twofold. The first is that fact that a person suffering from advanced gum disease is going to have a lesser amount of bone available then is considered ideal [6].

However, the decreased amount of bone support can be worked around through the use of bone grafts and other bone augmentation techniques.

The second reason, which is the state of oral hygiene is maintained by the patient, is much more important. If the patient is not going to employ good oral hygiene methods even after placement of the implant then the chances of failure become very high.

The presence of disease-causing bacteria in the mouth during the healing period of the implant can affect the bone formation around the implant. In such a case, the implant will never end up becoming firm inside the jaw and will have to be removed [7].

There are also certain common risk factors for gum disease and implant failure like cigarette smoking and diabetes which can complicate the placement of implants even further.

Can gum disease around the implants be treated?

Gum disease around the teeth is called gingivitis which progresses to periodontitis. Similarly, gum disease around the implants is called peri-implantitis. The treatment of peri-implantitis is difficult but it can be done [8].

If patients notice bleeding from the gums around their implants or food getting stuck then they must visit their dentist for a checkup. Inflammation spreads much quicker around the implants than it does around the teeth but the implant will remain firm till the very end. So even a firm implant could very well be on its way to failing but the patient might not necessarily understand the gravity of the situation [9].

The treatment for peri-implantitis may be a simple scaling to remove any plaque or tartar that has accumulated around the teeth or it may require gum surgery. The surface of the implant has to be cleaned with specialized plastic instruments which do not cause micro-abrasions and thus prevent any damage to the implant [10].

The use of bone grafts and membranes to help augment the bone around the implant can also be done but the success of bone grafts placed around existing implants is lesser than when placed around natural teeth.

How can gum disease around implants be prevented?

Gum disease around the implants is caused by the same factors as it is around the natural teeth. This means that the measures to prevent gum disease are the same as in any other situation. Patients are expected to maintain good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day, using an antibacterial mouthwash, and getting a professional cleaning of the teeth done once every six months [11].

That’s it. The prevention of gum disease is much simpler than its treatment and this is even truer in the case of dental implants. Like any other foreign object implanted in the body, dental implants are also susceptible to rejection.

Unlike other most other grafts, transplants, or implants though, dental implants fail over a longer period of time and thus give adequate time for the patient and clinician to try and take corrective steps.

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