Dental implants have an incredible longevity attributed to the material they’re made from, titanium, and to how they are integrated into the bone. Clinical research shows survival rates as high as 94% over 10 years and 91% over 15, and these studies have led to new technologies and methods that have helped make implants longer lasting. For example, patients with bruxism or with low bone density can enjoy better implants and techniques that continue to make dental implants available to more and more people.
You’ll see it in every dentist’s online FAQs: how long will my dental implant last?
The answer you’ll get can vary, but most of the time it goes something like, “it may last a lifetime.” This answer is true, but what’s interesting is why it’s true.
What does the science actually say? How long will your dental implant last?
As it turns out, it depends on different factors, including the type of implant, where the implant is placed, your oral health, and your habits. It also depends on what you mean by “implant.” To many people, the dental implant is the entire system: the fixture, the abutment, and the crown. Your dentist most likely defines it differently.
The implant is the fixture and the abutment. This is the long-lasting, titanium-alloy part of the system. This is what dentists are referring to when they say that it has a “98-percent success rate.”
The actual replacement tooth that’s attached to the dental implant comes separately and has an independent lifespan.
The crown is the easy part to install. On the other hand, the implant requires surgery. So, the longer the implant lasts, the better, right?
So how long do dental implants — the metal components that are surgically installed — last? The evidence shows: a long time, given clinical high long-term success rates.
The Longevity of an Osseointegrating Dental Implant: According to Science
Dental implants come in many types and sizes, and which one is right for you is something that your dentist must recommend to you specifically — it depends on many factors and it’s not something I can without meeting you and reviewing your individual situation.
Nowadays, the osseointegrated titanium implant and its derivatives is the most common.
Hundreds of papers have been published investigating their lifespan and common complications but, luckily, we have an early review of the scientific literature by T. Albrektsson, et. al. (1986): The Long-Term Efficacy of Currently Used Dental Implants.
Their research showed that implant longevity depends on which jaw the implant is added to. One study they reviewed showed an 84% 12-year success rate (meaning 84% of implants remained healthy over a 12-year period) for implants placed in the maxillary (upper jaw) and a 93% 12-year success rate for implants placed in the mandible (lower jaw).
Accounting for improvement in placement techniques, another study reviewed by Albrektsson, et. al., found a 15-year success rate of 91% and 81%, for mandible and maxillary dental implants.
To give you an idea, the 5-year success rate for a mandibular implant is over 95%, and to know that the 15-year rate falls only by four percentage points to 91% on average, it goes to show how robust implants are.
A 2007 paper by Holm-Pedersen, Lang, and Müller, gives similar results, although they do not distinguish between where the implant is placed. They found a survival rate between 80% and 90%, and as high as 94%, after 10 years.
Why is the range so big? Because an implant’s longevity depends on other factors.
The Role Your Health Plays in Implant Lifespan
One of the things your dentist will measure before placing an implant is the density of your jawbone.
The jaw holds your teeth in place and there’s a symbiotic relationship between it and the root of your teeth. Every time you chew gum or eat food, your teeth is imparting force onto the jaw and this tears the tissue. This catalyzes the bone to regenerate and strengthen, much like a muscle after working out, and it’s part of the process of keeping your bone density strong and healthy.
When you lose a tooth, that stimulus your jawbone needs is no longer there and the bone will begin to lose density.
You don’t always need a supplemental procedure, like a bone graft, if your jaw has lost density, but depending on the severity of the bone loss it can really pay off.
In a 2014 study, Goiato, et. al., found that the survival rate of implants can depend heavily on bone density.
They tested dental implant success rates for four bone qualities: type I, type II, type III, and type IV. Type 1 is the densest, most well-protected, and type 4 the least.
These are the survival rates they found:
- Type I: 97.6%
- Type II: 96.2%
- Type III: 96.5%
- Type IV: 88.8%
New dental implant technologies, like the ones we use in my practice, can improve these survival rates. The surface of an implant can be treated in many ways and how it’s treated can make a big difference in its longevity, and surface-treated implants can be used in patients with low jawbone density.
Like I said, your dentist will explain to you the best course of action. Go with what the dentist recommends, because choosing to forego a bone graft may mean you’re risking complicates down the road.
Similarly, the lifespan of a dental implant depends on how you treat your teeth after the procedure. Gum disease affects the tissue that holds your teeth in place, so if you’re not taking care of your oral health and you’re creating an environment ripe for periodontal problems, the longevity of your implant will be cut short.
What About Habits Like Jaw Clenching?
Much like how your oral wellbeing can play an important role in how long your dental implants last, so can habits like bruxism (teeth grinding and jaw clenching).
In a 2014 paper, Torcato, et. al., reviewed the clinical research and found that, in general, patients who grind their teeth or clench their jaws suffer from higher implant failure rates than those that don’t, although overall the total number of failures was low for both groups.
If you grind your teeth at night that’s not a reason to panic. Just make sure your dentist is aware of the issue before they plan your implant procedure.
Like with the issue of bone density, the problem of bruxism can be anticipated by the dentist.
For example, it’s common to use a wider fixture to better latch onto the jawbone, or we dentists can use a different type of fixture altogether. Otherwise, a night guard might be recommended, especially for the period immediately after the implant procedure.
How to Make Sure Your Implant Lasts a Very Long Time
We know that different factors can play a big role in the survivability of your dental implants, including:
- Where the implant is placed
- Bone density
- Oral health
- Oral habits
Under ideal conditions, a dental implant will last well beyond 15 years for over nine out of ten patients. This assumes you’re brushing and flossing your teeth regularly and visiting your dentist at least twice a year.
What if your conditions are less than ideal?
Be transparent when you visit your dentist for that initial consultation before the treatment plan is drawn.
There are options at our (at the dentist’s) disposal to help increase the longevity of the implant, even in cases where your jawbone has lost density or where habits — habits you may not be able to control — can be taken into consideration.
Thanks to modern technology and a wealth of studies, oral surgeons like me have developed new technologies and methods to achieve high success rates for a very wide range of patients.
And the truth is that, to date and in general, there’s no better option for replacing missing teeth than dental implants.