Most dental implant questions are from people who are considering implants. However, there are some questions that come up commonly from people who have dental implants.

Dental implants are supposed to be anchored firmly in the bone, so if you notice that your implant seems to be loose, it may be that your implant is failing, although there are other possible causes for your loose implant.

illustration of the stages of a dental implant

Don’t Test Your Implants

It’s normal for your teeth to move just a little bit, even if they’re healthy. About 1/100th of an inch is considered reasonable for healthy teeth,and any more than that is considered a loose tooth. The movement is due to the periodontal ligament, which secures the tooth in place. Even though the tooth is surrounded by bone, it’s actually held in placed by this strong, stretchy material. That’s why it’s okay to move your teeth a little bit with your tongue.

But dental implants are supposed to be anchored solidly in the bone. They shouldn’t move at all. And pushing the implant can actually make them move. When you push the implant to the side, it’s pressed up against the bone. When this happens, your body removes a small amount of bone to reduce the pressure. With natural teeth, this is partly countered because the periodontal ligament releases cells that cause your body to build new bone, but with dental implants, it can just lead to the loss of bone.

First Possibility: Loose Implant Crown

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a loose-feeling implant is necessarily failing. Instead, the crown on the dental implant could be loose. Like your natural tooth, the dental implant has two parts: the crown and the root. Most “loose implants” are actually loose crowns. This is often related to the abutment, a small connection piece that links the implant and the crown, used in most implants. Otherwise, it might be the crown itself that is damaged.

We will evaluate your crown and abutment. Sometimes, fixing the problem is as easy as tightening a screw. Other times, we might need to replace the abutment or crown.

Second Possibility: Loose Implant Didn’t Integrate

Another possible cause of a loose implant is that it hasn’t fully integrated with the jaw bone. Dental implants sometimes fail to integrate with the bone, especially if you’re a smoker. We’ll typically notice this at an early follow-up after the procedure, but if you notice an implant seems loose, never fail to mention it.

Failure to integrate is the most common cause of implant failure. It accounts for nearly half of all implant failures (about 1% of all dental implants), and we’ll know within a few months if this is happening to your implant. To give your implant the best odds of integration:

  • Follow all postoperative instructions
  • Don’t consume alcohol for at least 72 hours after implant procedure
  • Don’t smoke for at least 4 weeks after implant procedure
  • Eat a healthy diet with all the nutrients necessary for good bone health

If an implant fails to integrate, we will usually remove it and try again.

Third Possibility: Peri-Implantitis

Finally, gum disease might be attacking your implant the same way it attacks natural teeth. As with natural teeth, gum disease is the leading cause of loss for successfully integrated implants. Usually the gums are red and swollen around an implant when this happens, but not always. Sometimes we can treat the gum disease and the implant will secure itself, but other times we might have to remove the implant, allow healing, and then place a new implant.

To protect against this:

  • Brush at least twice daily
  • Learn to floss properly around your implant
  • Make all your regular dental visits. Note: if you’re at high risk for gum disease, you might have to see your dentist more than twice a year.

With proper care, a successful dental implant can last a lifetime (50+ years!)

Fourth Possibility: Rare Cases

Other than the above three causes, loose dental implants are rare, but they do happen. Sometimes, a dental implant might fracture. Sometimes, trauma to an implant can cause bone to break around the implant. A small number of people have titanium allergies, which can lead to loose implants and then implant failure. We will test all these possibilities and recommend an appropriate solution to help you enjoy the full benefits of your dental implants.

If you have other questions about dental implants, we invite you to talk to one of our cosmetic dentists, please call (843) 706-2999 for an appointment at Beyond Exceptional Dentistry in Hilton Head.