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In the UK, almost one third of all nerve injuries caused by dental work are associated with dental implants. (DTI/Photo courtesy of Dr Zehra Yilmaz and Professor Tara Renton, King's College London Dental Institute, UK)
Jun 13, 2012 | News Europe

Dental implants entail risk of nerve damage

by Dental Tribune International

LONDON, UK: As the number of people choosing to have dental implants is increasing, experts have warned that these surgeries can cause severe pain and altered sensation in the face. In a recent study, they found that patients are often inadequately informed by their dentist about potential risks.

Researchers from the King’s College London Dental Institute reviewed 30 cases of dental implant patients who had been referred to a specialist nerve clinic at the college’s hospital.

Constant pain was observed in over half of the patients, while 40 per cent complained of numbness after placement of a dental implant. Moreover, between 30 and 50 per cent reported reduced pleasure in kissing, as well as difficulties with speaking, eating, drinking and brushing their teeth, owing to permanent pain.

The researchers found that many clinicians are not sufficiently careful and that preoperative consent, planning and follow-up with regard to possible nerve damage are often inadequate. They found that only about one third of the patients had signed consent forms, many of whom had not been explicitly warned about nerve injury. More than six months after surgery, 70 per cent had been referred to the specialist nerve injury clinic, whereas only three patients had been referred immediately post-surgery.

“Pain and numbness from nerve damage in the facial area can have a significant impact on people’s lives. It is vital that patients understand the risk of this type of surgery, and clinicians must improve their systems and procedures,” said Tara Renton, professor at the institute and lead author of the article.

Among other recommendations, the researchers advised that professionals inform implant patients adequately about the possible risk of permanent nerve damage during placement of mandibular implants. In addition, sufficient preoperative radiographic planning and post-operative follow-up must be carried out. They further suggested the use of shorter implants to reduce the risk of nerve damage and emphasised the importance of referring patients to a specialist immediately if damage is found to have occurred.

According to the researchers, the percentage of all nerve injuries has risen from 10 to 30 per cent in recent years owing to an increase in dental implant surgeries. They estimate that every year 10,000 mandibular dental implants are placed in patients in the UK, resulting in about 100 chronic nerve injuries.

The study was published online on 8 June in the British Dental Journal ahead of print.

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