Approximately 10,000 lower jaw dental implant procedures are carried out in the UK every year, substantially up in number from a few years ago but with the rise in implant surgery has come an increase in the number of patients being left with permanent nerve damage. A dental implant is an artificial root placed into the jaw to hold a replacement tooth or bridge. Dental implants are used when teeth are lost through disease or injury.
Researchers from the King’s College London Dental Institute reviewed 30 dental implant patients being treated by the nerve injury clinic at King’s College Hospital. The findings of the study published in the British Dental Journal, revealed that patient consent and information, pre-operative planning and appropriate post-operative referrals were inadequate.
Of the 30 patients whose nerve injuries were reviewed 64% did not recall providing written consent before the procedure, in 15% of cases no pre or post operative radiographic evidence was provided and 70% of the patients had waited more than six months before being referred to a specialist nerve clinic, despite evidence that early implant removal can reduce the risk of permanent damage.
Permanent pain and problems with speech, eating or kissing are all common signs of nerve damage following implant surgery. More than half of the 30 patients participating in the study suffered constant pain or discomfort, 40% complained of numbness and 30% suffered psychological problems.
Following the case review, the researchers made several recommendations which included:
- Clinicians should ensure that all patients give adequate consent and make them aware of the risks of potential nerve damage.
- Shorter implants should be used to reduce the risk of nerve damage.
- Immediate referrals should be made to nerve injury clinics and implants should be promptly removed.
Pain and numbness from nerve damage in the facial area can have a significant impact on people’s lives
Professor Tara Renton, lead author from the King’s College London Dental Institute, said: “Pain and numbness from nerve damage in the facial area can have a significant impact on people’s lives.
“As the number of people choosing to have dental implants is on the increase, so is the incidence of nerve injury. It is vital that patients understand the risks of this type of surgery, and clinicians must improve their systems and procedures.
“In our study of a collection of implant patients with injuries we discovered that pre-operative consent, planning and follow-up after surgery was inadequate. Clinicians must be vigilant about potential nerve damage when carrying out these surgical procedures.”
Gwen Kirby-Dent Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Thompsons said: “Informed patient consent should be an essential prerequisite for any surgery and patients considering dental implant surgery should be made fully aware of the risks. Nerve injuries can be hugely debilitating, the symptoms we see range from tingling or numbness to severe pain with a significant impact on quality of life."
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