Dental restorations don't last forever. When you have a cavity filled, you know that this filling will eventually need to be replaced. There's no ticking clock on a restoration, and many factors influence just how long it will last. Dental implants are intended to replace a missing tooth, and since this type of restoration requires a small surgical procedure, it's legitimate to wonder if you'll have to repeat the process at some point in the future. In short, you're probably wondering how long your new dental implant is going to last.
Not a Single Unit
Although dental implants are referred to as a single unit, they have different parts. With a standard single tooth implant (called an endosteal implant), the part actually implanted into your jawbone is a small screw, usually made of titanium alloy. This metal is preferred due to its strength and biocompatibility—meaning it won't trigger an adverse reaction in the tissues it's in contact with. An abutment is affixed to the implant, and a prosthetic dental crown (your new fake tooth) is then secured to the abutment.
The titanium alloy screw in your jaw is intended to last, for lack of a better term, forever. Its placement should be permanent, but this can't be guaranteed. Trauma (an accident) affecting the implant can dislodge it, as can an infection. Excessive biomechanical forces caused by a subsequent, unrelated dental condition such as bruxism (teeth grinding) can weaken the screw's connection to your jawbone. But these scenarios are not common, and as long as the implant to bone connection remains intact, the titanium alloy screw should stay in place indefinitely.
Your Dental Crown
Any implant-related replacement is almost always going to exclusively affect the prosthetic dental crown. Most patients opt for a ceramic crown, although acrylic crowns are available. The crown will age and can become discoloured as the years go by (much like natural teeth). It's also possible for a crown to become chipped or fractured (again, much like natural teeth). In instances of discolouration, you may want the crown to be replaced for cosmetic purposes, even if it's still perfectly functional.
Replacing a Crown
Replacing an implant's crown is not the same as replacing the implant. The titanium alloy screw should remain secure and intact, and any issues related to the crown simply involve having the crown removed and replaced. Even if the crown should feel loose, this doesn't necessarily warrant implant removal. The crown is secured to its abutment with dental cement and a lag screw, and this connection may simply need to be re-secured. Of course, your dentist will perform an x-ray to check that the titanium alloy screw has remained secure.
The visible part of your dental implant (the prosthetic dental crown) will eventually need to be replaced, but the actual portion implanted in your jaw should (with proper care) last indefinitely.
For more information on dental implants, contact a professional near you.