The actual implanted part of a dental implant is a tiny titanium alloy screw inserted into your alveolar ridge, which is part of your jaw. The implant will support the pressure experienced by the prosthetic tooth that will soon be attached to it, but this process isn't immediate for most patients. The bone needs to heal around the implant (a process called osseointegration, which can take anywhere between two and six months). Osseointegration is intended to be permanent, and the implant should be totally immobilized. So why is your dental implant moving weeks, months, or even years after you thought the job had been completed?
A good rule of thumb with any dental problem is that treatment is less complicated the earlier a dentist can intervene. A seemingly loose implant can be a very serious problem, so please don't delay visiting your dentist. Of course, when a loose dental implant isn't accompanied by pain (or visible inflammation), you might not think you need to rush.
Loose Implant (With No Pain or Swelling)
In the absence of pain or swelling, a loose dental implant may not technically be loose at all. The implant was fitted with an abutment, and the prosthetic tooth was then secured to this abutment. The lack of any signs of infection can suggest that the problem is limited to the tooth and/or its abutment, which is simple enough to correct. The tooth may need to be removed and re-secured to its abutment. The connection is either via dental cement or a screw mechanism. When the latter is involved, all a dentist may need to do is tighten that screw.
Loose Implant (With Pain and Swelling)
When the gingival tissues around the implant are inflamed and sore, it suggests that you'll need a more involved dental implant restoration than merely re-securing the prosthetic tooth. Bacterial contaminants might have infiltrated your gum tissues and attached to the implant, with the surrounding tissues becoming more and more inflamed. There may even be light bleeding or pus from the base of the prosthetic tooth. This is an infection called peri-implant mucositis, which affects soft tissues without disrupting the implant's connection to your alveolar ridge. Your dentist will access the implant in order to decontaminate it, manually removing bacterial accumulation. You could also need antibiotics, but this isn't always necessary.
If left untreated, peri-implant mucositis can escalate to peri-implantitis, which means that the implant's connection to your jaw has destabilized, and you're experiencing bone loss. Unfortunately, implant removal is usually needed in this case. It must be removed so your infection can be treated, and your alveolar ridge and soft gingival tissues will need time to heal. Once the implant site is ready, another implant can be installed. This is a worst-case scenario, but it can be avoided if you don't delay seeking treatment.
Postoperative complications with dental implants will only be a problem for a minority of patients, but it's still important for anyone with a dental implant to be aware of these potential issues.
Contact your dentist for more information about dental implant restoration.