Can I have dental implants if I suffer from gum disease?

For many people, dental implants are an ideal answer to the problem of failing and missing teeth.  You may have lost teeth due to suffering from the late stages of gum disease.  Gum disease is a condition where the gums become swollen, sore or infected.  Other symptoms of gum disease can also include bad breath and an unpleasant taste in your mouth.  Left untreated, the early stage of gum disease, known as gingivitis, can develop into a more advanced form of gum disease, periodontitis, which can damage the bone in your jaw and cause your teeth to become loose.

Dental implants look, feel and function like natural teeth, and can help you to regain the ability to talk, eat and laugh without issue.  A tooth implant is a titanium or zirconium post that replaces the root of the tooth and supports new teeth such as single crowns, bridges and full dentures.  They are inserted into the jaw before replacement teeth are fitted and fuse with the jawbone, a process called osseointegration.  This results in a secure bond between the implant and surrounding bone.

If you adopt and maintain good oral hygiene and a healthy lifestyle, teeth implants can give you a second chance to have a healthy mouth regardless of how you lost your teeth in the first place.

What causes gum disease?

Gum disease is caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth.  Plaque is a sticky biofilm that contains bacteria.  When you consume food or drink high in carbohydrates, such as sugary snacks, bacteria converts the carbohydrates into energy and acid.  The acid breaks down the surface of your teeth, causing tooth decay.  If plaque is not removed through brushing, it can build up and irritate your gums, causing gingivitis.  Plaque that is left can harden into tartar, which is much more difficult to remove.

How is gum disease treated?

You should make an appointment to see your dentist if you believe that you have gum disease.  Your dentist can carry out a thorough examination to assess the health of your mouth.

The best way to treat gum disease is to practise good oral hygiene habits, including brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes, using fluoride toothpaste to help prevent tooth decay, flossing between your teeth daily, avoiding smoking, and regularly visiting your dentist.  If you have built-up plaque and tartar, your dentist may recommend some dental treatments, including a scale-and-polish, which is a ‘professional clean’ performed by a dental hygienist using specialist instruments.

If you’re a smoker, one of the best ways to reduce your risk of gum disease would be to cut down on or give up cigarettes.  For more information on this topic, please read “Smoking and dental implants”.

How will my suitability be affected if I’ve had gum disease?

Gum disease must be treated before dental implant surgery can take place, as periodontitis can cause the jawbone to shrink and gums to recede, which may compromise the stability of a placed dental implant.

If you have previously suffered from advanced gum disease, you may have already lost bone density in your jaw through a process known as resorption.  Your dentist will be able to assess your jawbone and decide if you require a bone graft, a procedure which increases the amount of bone in your jaw to provide a sturdy foundation for dental implants.

Can I suffer from gum disease after my dental implants have been placed?

Looking after your tooth implants is much the same as looking after your natural teeth.  Your oral cleaning regime should be no less stringent just because implants are artificial tooth roots.  Plaque can also collect on implant crowns.  If left to build up, this will cause irritation to your gums.  This condition is known as peri-implant mucositis and has similar symptoms to gingivitis.  If the plaque isn’t removed and the peri-implant mucositis reversed, the condition could worsen and become peri-implantitis.  This stage of gum disease can cause bone loss, which can lead to the dental implant becoming loose.  For more information about how to care for dental implants, read “The long-term care of dental implants”.

Dr Prem Hunjan of Bupa Dental Care Heckmondwike concludes, “I strongly recommend maintaining an excellent cleaning regime, even more so following implant treatment. In order to contribute to the longevity of their new teeth, our implant patients have their oral hygiene closely monitored, with regular reviews.”

With a good oral hygiene routine, you should be able to prevent or overcome gum disease and proceed with dental implant treatment, leading to a happier, healthier mouth.  To find out more, a nearby implant dentist can offer you a free preliminary consultation to discuss the health of your mouth.

This article was written with kind assistance from:

Dr Prem Hunjan of Bupa Dental Care Heckmondwike