Dental implants are the ideal choice for the replacement of missing teeth for many reasons and although they are visually indistinguishable from natural teeth, they need to be cared for in a different manner. It is important for patients to understand that there are some anatomical differences between a natural tooth and a dental implant.
Let’s start by examining the shape of a natural tooth in comparison to a dental implant. Natural teeth have a wider neck while dental implants have a smaller neck. The difference in design will be more apparent in molar teeth, because molars have multiple roots and dental implants replace the roots of any tooth with only one root or fixture. Since implants have a smaller circumference at the neck of the crown, the patient may experience the feeling of a wider space when using in-between cleaners or issues with frequent food trapping. The feel of a wider space is not unusual in some cases; however, this makes an effective home care regimen absolute for the long term success and health of the implant.
When caring for dental implants, it is important to maintain healthy gum tissue and supporting bone. Due to the absence of natural tooth structures, it is impossible for the implant itself to decay or grow a cavity. However, the life expectancy or success of the dental implant can become jeopardized in the presence of inflammation or the periodontal infection known as peri-implantitis or implantitis.
Implantitis is the destructive inflammatory process affecting the soft and hard tissues surrounding dental implants. During the inflammatory process, dental implants can become colonized by the same destructive bacteria that cause periodontal infections in natural teeth and, if left undisturbed, these bacteria will mature into calculus. Calculus is the rough hard deposit that can destroy the supporting gum and bone that surround the implant locking it into the jaw. Once established, this deposit cannot be brushed or flossed off and can only be removed by a dental hygienist or implant care practitioner. This constant microbial challenge is threatening to the life of the implant and can ultimately cause a dental implant to fail. The first step in the prevention of implant failure is to build an effective plaque removal routine and practice it 2-3 times a day at home. Visiting your dental hygienist or implant care practitioner for professional maintenance 2-3 times a year is also of importance for not only the prevention of disease around your implant, but for the benefit of an overall healthy mouth.
Shavonne Healy, RDH, BSDH, ICP is a registered dental hygienist and implant care practitioner at Kazemi Oral Surgery & Dental Implants