Dental implants are the best tooth replacement option, so it’s natural that everyone who has lost teeth would want them. But there are some risks associated with dental implants, and these risks may increase if you have undergone radiation therapy for cancer.
Here are some factors to take into account if you are considering dental implants or dentures after cancer treatments.
What Are the Risks?
The primary risk of radiation exposure to the jaw is that your dental implant is more likely to fail. Failure rates for dental implants can be two or three times as high if your jawbone has been irradiated.
There’s also a risk for osteonecrosis of the jaw, although this is much rarer. In osteonecrosis of the jaw, the jawbone begins dying uncontrollably, and may result in a loss of a lot of your jawbone beyond just the implant area. This can lead to a loss of other teeth and even deformation of your jaw.
Where Was the Cancer?
With improvements in radiation therapy, radiation exposure is more focused on the actual area where the cancer occurred. Incidental exposure is more limited to areas around the cancer than it was in the past.
So if your cancer was in the jaw, you know that there was radiation exposure, but if the cancer was breast cancer or pancreatic cancer, there is less risk that your jaw was exposed, so you may not have any increased risk.
How Much Radiation Was Used?
The other thing that matters is how much radiation that was used. At least one study suggests that a radiation exposure of 55 Grays (Gy) is associated with significantly higher risk of dental implant failure.
Consult with Your Oncologist
Before getting dental implants, it’s a good idea to talk to your oncologist to determine whether your treatments may have increased your risk of dental implant failure. The good news is that, even with radiation exposure, dental implant success rates are relatively high, perhaps 88%, although this is not nearly as high as for people without radiation exposure.