What to Know About Dental Implant Complications and Risks

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 12, 2021
4 min read

Dental implants are an effective way of replacing lost or damaged adult teeth. It’s a procedure where your dentist places a metal post into the bone of your jaw in place of a missing tooth. They then add an artificial tooth on top of the post to make your smile look natural. Implants are strong enough to withstand normal chewing.

When implants work as they are supposed to, they are better than dentures or bridgework. They are stronger than removable teeth and usually more comfortable, but getting dental implants can take multiple procedures and carries some risk of complications.

If you are missing one or more teeth and your jaw has finished growing, your dentist might suggest implants. This will give you a long-term replacement for your missing teeth. Implants are long-lasting and almost as strong as natural teeth.

Here are the steps of dental implant surgery:  

Tooth removal. If you have a damaged tooth, your dentist will need to extract it, and then you will need time to heal before the next procedure.

Jaw preparation. After you have healed from extraction, your dentist will make sure the bone in your jaw is strong enough to hold an implant. You may need a bone graft to increase bone density and stimulate more bone growth. If you do get a graft, you'll have to wait a while before the next procedure.

Implant placement. Implant placement is an oral surgical procedure. Your dentist will cut open your gums to reveal the jawbone. They will then drill into the bone and insert the metal base of the implant. After that, you will need to wait as long as several months for the bone to grow around the implant, holding it firmly in place.

Abutment placement. Once the implant is integrated with your jawbone, your dentist will attach an abutment that sits above your gum line. They will open the skin of your gums to reveal the impact base and attach a short metal rod. In some cases, the abutment is placed at the same time as the implant. The rod will eventually hold your artificial tooth. 

Artificial tooth placement. Your dentist will take impressions to make a crown that looks just like your existing teeth and fits snugly against them. Once that crown is ready, the dentist will attach it to the abutment. 

Failure of osseointegration:Osseointegration is when the bone grows around your implant. If osseointegration fails, the implant won’t be secure enough to hold the crown in place. This is called dental implant failure. In the case of dental implant failure, the implant may fall out on its own, or you may need to have it removed. If your dental implant fails, you and your dentist can decide if you should replace the implant or try another option.

Improper implant placement: Your dentist could make an error in placing your implant. If there is a problem with the location or angle of the implant, it can lead to complications. The implant may not fuse with the bone properly, may be too close to adjacent teeth and cause discomfort, or may become loose or painful. If this happens, you may need to have the implant removed or replaced. You may want to get a second opinion from a different dentist before getting a new implant.

Sinus damage: ‌One major dental implant risk is sinus damage. Your upper jaw is directly under your nasal sinuses. Implants to replace your top teeth can potentially penetrate into the sinus, leading to discomfort or possible infection. If this happens, your dentist will let you know what you can do to manage the situation.

Infection: Like any oral surgery procedure, dental implant surgery has a risk of infection. Your dentist will give you instructions on keeping your incisions clean as they heal. If you notice pain, swelling, or fluid draining from the incision site, contact your dentist. You may need additional procedures to treat an infection of the gum or bone.

Nerve damage: It’s possible for implant surgery to lead to nerve damage. Your dentist should take X-rays before the procedure to locate the nerves in your mouth. Nerve damage can have lasting effects, so you should discuss the risks with your dentist before the procedure. 

In some cases, implant placement affects the teeth around the implant. If the adjacent teeth have minor problems such as decay or root damage, the trauma from oral surgery can make them worse. Your dentist should examine your other teeth and address any problems before placing your implant. 

Before you commit to dental implants, discuss all the risks with your dentist. Be sure to tell them about any health conditions you have or any medicines you take. Your dentist will help you decide if implants are the best option for you.