Dental implant surgery is generally painless, but that's courtesy of the anesthesia that your dentist gave you before beginning. After the procedure, when the effects of the anesthesia wear off, you will begin to feel some discomfort; this is perfectly normal and can be managed with pain medication at home. As the healing process begins, and your jaw begins to fuse with the implant, your discomfort will fade. So why, months (or even years) after that brief, initial discomfort is your implant starting to hurt?
An Infection Around the Implant
Dental implants and the prosthetic teeth attached to them can't decay or deteriorate in the same way as organic tissues and teeth. Despite this, it's possible for an infection to develop around the implant. This affects the tissues supporting the implant—both the hard tissues (your jaw) and the soft tissues (your gingival tissues, or gums). This is known as peri-implantitis and can result in the significant deterioration of these tissues, which will destabilize the implant. This condition is typically caused by the accumulation of plaque in your mouth that has penetrated the implant site. Basically, if your implant should begin to hurt, you must see your dentist—ideally the same dentist who performed the implant surgery.
Additional Signs of Infection
While mild discomfort (which progressively increases) is the first possible sign of peri-implantitis, there can be other signs. The gingival tissues at the base of the implant can become swollen, and there can even be discharge from the site. This discharge can be blood or pus, or a combination of the two. If untreated, the implant will begin to move as it destabilizes and it can be extremely uncomfortable. In short, you need to act quickly, as the sooner you have your implant assessed, the easier it is to treat peri-implantitis without the loss of the implant.
For dental implants affected by peri-implantitis, your dentist will perform a mechanical debridement of the implant. This involves an ultrasonic tool that will remove harmful bacteria. The contours of the implant, which are typically screw-shaped, mean that debridement will not be effective on its own, as there are many grooves in the implant surface that are difficult to access. Debridement is performed in conjunction with antiseptic treatment to sterilize the implant; since the surrounding tissues are infected, antibiotics can also be necessary. You will also need a series of follow-up appointments to gauge the integrity of your jaw. Hard tissue damage can lead to deterioration and loss of the bone, which often requires implant extraction.
The takeaway is that any discomfort associated with your implant must be professionally assessed. Peri-implantitis can be successfully treated in its early stages; however, it becomes more complicated if the condition is allowed to progress.
For more information about dental implants, contact your dentist.