Dental implant infection is not common. But it can happen. And when it does, your oral health situation may get complicated quickly.
In this article:
- Signs of implant problems
- Diagnosis of implant infection
- Can an infected implant be saved?
- How to prevent implant infections following surgery?
And much more.
What is implant infection?
Dental implant infection is a kind of gum disease called peri-implantitis. It is similar to gingivitis.
Beginning with serious inflammation in the soft tissues around your dental implant, it can cause bone loss if left untreated.
According to the Journal of Periodontology, if you have chronic gum infection and poor plaque control skills, you may experience implant infection.
5 major signs of dental implant infections
The following 5 signs may indicate an implant infection in your mouth.
1. Difficulty chewing food
Having implants instead of natural teeth on your jaws may not be the most pleasing experience for obvious reasons.
The mental pressure of bone grafting and surgery can be overwhelming for anyone.
Dentists take every precaution to ensure you can bear that pressure and quickly get back to normal life. They will advise you to eat soft and cold foods and warm soup during your healing period. Your mouth and jaws need time to get used to your new appliances.
Your jaw may still hurt during or after eating something. What happens is that your implants direct the extra pressure on your teeth to the jawbones. However, this pain should go away within a specific period.
If it does not and increases with time, you should contact your dentist.
According to an article published in the Journal of the South African Dental Association (SADJ), one of the main characteristics of peri-implantitis is the ‘progressive inflammatory destruction of the crest of the alveolar bone.’
The alveolar bone is the structure that holds your implant in place.
2. Bleeding gums
Bleeding gums are proof that you have a mild form of gum disease. Gums may bleed when you brush or floss your teeth. However, when bleeding concerns an implant, you must be vigilant.
It is common to experience some form of light bleeding after your implant surgery. The bleeding should stop within 72 hours. But if it continues after that, do not hesitate to contact your dentist.
Your gums may start bleeding months after your surgery. While some people take only days to heal completely, some take even months.
You should see a dentist even if your gums do not bleed but look red and soft around your implants. Bacteria can build up under the gum line and at the implant’s base.
3. Pus build-up around your implants
Pus is a thick, whitish-to-yellowish fluid filled with dead blood cells, tissues, and bacteria. It may also look brown. Your body creates pus as it fights bacterial infection.
If your gums drain pus, contact your dentist. You may have an implant infection.
In some cases, you may not see the pus. Pus build-up may happen under the gum line and in the area close to the jawbone. You may only notice a red and swollen area very sensitive to touch.
If not treated early, the infection may spread to the surrounding teeth and implants.
4. Bad breath in your mouth
Although sometimes pus may appear odorless, it generally has an odor. If you cannot get rid of the bad breath in your mouth with regular brushing and flossing, an infection may be behind it.
It is not only bad breath that you will have to deal with at this time. The infection will also leave a bad taste in your mouth.
5. Loose implants
If any implants are loose, contact your dentist for an examination. Bacterial infection may have caused bone decay at the socket.
It may also mean that the adjacent teeth have infections.
However, it is not a medical emergency, but It should also not be neglected.
When an implant surgery becomes successful, no implant moves or wiggles in its place. It is supposed to sit stable into your jawbone, maintaining proper alignment with your natural teeth or other implants. If it moves, it may mean it has not adequately bonded with your body.
You may also feel pain in your gums around the implant at this time. The gums may appear swollen.
In extreme circumstances, your implant may come out of its location, making your mouth more sensitive than ever.
Remember that you should never press your implants to see if they are loose. Any pressure on an implant will affect the jawbone and make the implant looser than before.
You should see a dentist to examine your implant professionally.
In most cases, the crown on the implant is found loose instead of the implant onto which the crown is fixed.
How do dentists diagnose implant infections?
- X-ray of the infected implant. Your dentist will x-ray the implant to identify any bone decay you may have.
- Exploration of the socket and the gum. Such exploration is valuable to determine the intensity of the infection so that it could be reversed or cured properly.
- Understand the cause of infection. If the condition is indeed caused by infection, your dentist will explain the root cause and how it should be treated.
Can an infected implant be saved?
There are several ways that your dentist can treat an infected implant. The method will depend on the intensity and location of the implant.
- Use of antibiotics.
- Dental surgery. This method may be used if the infection is under the gum line or further down the bone.
- Application of laser rays. Laser treatment has made a good name in the industry as it is non-surgical.
- Introduction of mechanical debridement. This will be done to remove pus from the infected spot if the spot is big.
- Bone regeneration. If the bone loss is significant, new bone may be regenerated to fill the gap. In this case, the implant will be removed to begin the bone grafting process.
How to prevent dental implant infections following surgery?
Maintain good oral hygiene
Maintaining good oral health should be central to your post-surgery preventative activities. You step towards dental infection when you stop caring about your mouth daily.
- Brush your teeth at least twice daily.
- Use a soft-bristle brush.
- Use low-abrasive toothpaste.
- Floss your teeth to remove food debris from between your teeth.
- Do not use a waxed thread. Use a water flosser.
- Brush around and under your crowns.
Help accelerate the healing process
Your dentist may recommend a specific mouthwash for your use.
The healing period after the surgery is the most vulnerable period for your mouth. You should take every precaution to ensure quick healing.
The healing time for an implant is over four months. It can be even longer for some patients: seven months to a year.
But you are not out of danger once you have received your permanent crowns. With dental implants in your mouth, you should always ensure the best oral care.
Follow a healthy lifestyle
- Avoid smoking. Smoking prolongs the healing period and interrupts effective healing.
- Do not eat hard, crunchy foods.
- Avoid consuming highly sugary and sticky food items.
- Stay hydrated.
- Eat nutritious food to strengthen your immune system gradually.
Follow an effective dental care routine
Create an effective dental care plan with your dentist and stick to it.
Having a titanium post into your jawbone is not a matter of joke. Many patients develop what may be called dentist-phobia in the post-surgery period and do not seek help when they need it most. Do not be one of these people.
Talk to your dentist if you have any implant-related concerns. Do not deviate from your dentist’s guidelines for your dental care.
Dental implant infection may complicate your oral health in the post-surgery period. You can save yourself from serious anxieties by seeking your dentist’s assistance early in the infection.
The best is not to leave any stone unturned so that you can keep dangerous bacteria away from your mouth.
Indeed, much can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and good oral health.
- Journal of Periodontology. ‘Peri-implantitis.’ 2018 Jun; 89 Suppl 1: S267-S290.
- American Dental Association. ‘Implants.’
- Journal of the South African Dental Association (SADJ). ‘Peri-implant mucositis and peri-implantitis: bacterial infection,’ 2012 Mar; 67(2): 70, 72-74.
- American Academy of Periodontology. ‘Peri-Implant Diseases.’
- International Journal of Oral Maxillofac Implants. ‘Dental implant failure rates and associated risk factors.’ Jul-Aug 2005; 20(4): 569-77.