How to Maintain & Care For Dental Implants

Dental implants have gained popularity because they restore natural chewing function and smile beauty while enhancing self-confidence and quality of life. Whether you need a failing tooth extracted or already have a gap caused by a missing tooth, dental implants are the number one tooth replacement solution. 

Dental implants consist of three parts that replicate the function and aesthetics of natural teeth. They’re the only tooth replacement option that helps maintain bone health and stimulate new growth once the implant post integrates with your underlying jawbone. 

As a patient, it’s essential for you to learn how to take care of dental implants and recognize potential problems that can arise after surgery. Following your dentist’s postsurgical guidelines and reading the following tips will help you achieve an optimal dental implant surgery outcome. 

1. Daily Oral Hygiene Practices 

The oral hygiene for dental implants is nearly the same as for natural teeth, except during the first month after surgery. You shouldn’t use an electric toothbrush, regular mouthwash, or an oral irrigator until your implant sites have properly healed. Thereafter, you can follow these oral hygiene practices. 

Brush at least twice a day and always before bed to prevent bacteria from thriving while you sleep. An interdental brush is helpful for brushing between teeth and in hard-to-reach spaces around your gums. Whether you get an electric toothbrush or a manual one, only use one with soft bristles. 

Ask your dentist for floss specifically made for implants because the wrong kind may fray and leave debris. This can increase the risk of infection or plaque buildup around your implants. A WaterPik or another oral irrigator is a good option if flossing around implants is challenging. 

After healing, you can use mouthwash, as long as it is free of peroxide and alcohol. 

2. Regular Dental Checkups and Cleanings 

Visiting a dentist for scheduled checkups is essential for everyone, but even more so after getting dental implants. Routine checkups help ensure you’re following proper oral hygiene and enable your dentist to detect early signs of oral health issues that could cause more serious problems down the road. Professional teeth cleanings remove harmful plaque and dental calculus (tartar) that can’t be removed at home.

3. Proper Nutrition and Diet 

The first week after dental implant surgery, you may be advised to only eat soft foods and a liquid diet. For the next two weeks, recommended foods include soft fruits, oatmeal, dairy products, mashed potatoes, eggs, and soups/broths. 

To prevent damage to implants, irritation to the implant sites and potential infection, you need to avoid certain foods until your sites have fully healed and the implants have integrated with the underlying bone. 

  • Don’t chew on nuts, ice, hard candy, or other hard foods
  • Avoid crunchy foods like chips and popcorn
  • Stay away from tough and chewy foods including jerky, steak, and raw vegetables
  • Avoid spicy foods because they can cause irritation, pain, and discomfort
  • Don’t eat sticky foods like caramel and taffy because they can stick to your implants and gums 

After healing and receiving your final restoration, the sky’s the limit when it comes to food! Unlike dentures, a big benefit of dental implants is that you’ll be able to eat normally without dietary restrictions or feeling anxious about your teeth falling out. 

4. Lifestyle Factors 

Tobacco use negatively affects the outcome of almost all routine dental procedures, from simple nonsurgical periodontal therapy to dental implant surgery. A 2021 study concluded that smokers have a 140.2% higher risk of dental implant failure than nonsmokers. It’s recommended that you refrain from smoking until the implants have fully integrated with the underlying bone, which can take three to six months. 

If you grind or clench your teeth at night (bruxism), this can lead to a fracture of the implant, damage to the screw, and fracture of the porcelain or zirconia crown. A custom-made mouth guard that you wear while sleeping can protect your teeth and reduce the risk of dental implant failure.

Recognizing and Addressing Complications 

Although dental implant surgery has a high success rate, potential short- and long-term complications can occur, although infrequently. By learning the signs/symptoms for each type of complication, you can seek prompt attention should a problem arise. 

Infection and Inflammation (Peri-Implantitis) 

Early symptoms include swollen gums, tenderness, and mouth sensitivity. As the condition progresses, you may experience worsening jaw pain, see exposed implant threads, notice pus at the site, or feel a loosening of the implant. 

Loose Implants 

If you notice a wiggling implant, don’t touch it and avoid chewing on that side. It’s important to schedule an appointment with your implant dentist as soon as possible. In addition to a completely dislodged implant, other signs include bleeding, painful gums, or swelling around the tooth/implant; a sensation of the tooth moving; and the inability to chew or bite down. 

Nerve or Bone Damage 

If a dental implant is placed too close to a nerve, this can cause numbness, tingling, or pain. Injury to the inferior alveolar nerve in the lower jaw can be potentially serious and cause persistent numbness on the side of the implant, continual pain or discomfort, tingling, tickling, or burning sensations in the gums and skin. Both of these issues require immediate attention. 

Long Term Maintenance and Replacement 

Dental implants offer greater longevity than any other tooth replacement option. They can last more than 30 years and some patients are able to keep dental implants for the rest of their lives. To ensure a long lifespan, it’s important to follow proper maintenance and care, including the tips discussed in this blog. 

Although dental implant failure is rare, you can reduce the risk by seeking prompt care if you experience any signs of complication. If failure is caused by inadequate bone, an immediate bone grafting procedure will help support the new dental implant and increase the chance of proper fusion. 

Restore Your Smile with the Number One Solution 

No other tooth replacement option looks and feels as natural or offers the versatility of dental implants. With proper care, dental implants can provide a lifetime of natural oral function and smile beauty!

Dr. David A. Sabourin, D.D.S.

Dr. Sabourin relocated to San Diego from Ann Arbor, Michigan where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Michigan. He graduated at the top of his class with High Honors from the University of Detroit School of Dentistry where he received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree.

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