To The Bone: Why Is Your Dental Implant Shifting?

Natural teeth extend outwards from their dental sockets. They're not actually directly connected to the underlying jawbone, and this connection is via your periodontal ligaments—which are incredibly sturdy while also being partially elasticated. This permits them a small amount of flexibility, allowing teeth to be repositioned during orthodontic treatment. Dental implants, on the other hand, are connected (fused) directly to the jawbone, and should be completely immobilized. This is why a shifting dental implant is a matter that requires urgent investigation.

What a Shifting Implant Feels Like

What are some of the signs of a shifting dental implant? Any physical changes to the implant's position will be subtle, and can be difficult to spot. It's more likely that the prosthetic tooth attached to the implant will feel slightly loose, much like when a baby tooth is about to detach. However, the problem isn't limited to the prosthetic tooth, and extends down through the implant (which is serving as an artificial tooth root), to the bone. This shifting will result in some discomfort, especially when applying any bite pressure to the prosthetic tooth. There can also be a general sense of feeling unwell (fever, fatigue)—particularly when the issue is caused by an infection.

Why an Implant Can Shift

There are two main reasons why a dental implant may begin to shift. These are:

  • An infection (peri-implantitis) has begun to affect the implant's connection to the bone, destabilizing the implant in the process.
  • There was inadequate bone mass to support the implant, so the connection between the implant and bone has weakened (or failed completely). Your jaw directly beneath the empty socket redirects nutrients when a tooth is missing, and the bone then loses some density.

Please note that neither of these scenarios are self-correcting. Your jawbone will not restabilize the implant, and the shifting implant will inevitably become worse. You must see your dentist as soon as you can. 

How Your Dentist Will Help

What will your dentist be able to do? Regretfully, your implant may need to be removed. Should an infection be the cause, you may be asked about your postoperative habits, as inadequate oral hygiene and certain behaviors (such as smoking) may have led to your infection. Antibiotics might be necessary before the implant can be replaced (along with strict aftercare instructions which must be followed to the letter to prevent a repeat of the issue). It's undoubtedly disappointing when inadequate bone mass was the culprit. Although bone density will be measured before implant placement, practice can be different to theory. Although it was thought that you had ample bone mass, this turned out to be overly optimistic. You may need to undergo a small procedure known as bone grafting to add density to the bone. After healing from this procedure, the implant can be replaced.

A shifting implant will eventually fail, and this failure may turn out to be quite uncomfortable if treatment is not sought quickly. So if you suspect that your dental implant has started to shift, contact your dentist.