Jawbone Loss and How To Combat It

Nearly 3.5 billion people across the world suffer from oral disease. Most people only think about their teeth when they hear the term “oral health.” But when poor oral hygiene and oral disease lead to tooth loss, it can affect the jawbone as well.

How does tooth loss occur, and how does it impact the jaw? What is bone grafting? How does a dental implant help prevent bone loss? Here’s what you need to know.

Why Tooth Loss Happens

When people think of tooth loss, they often think of trauma. And it does happen—a blow to the face can certainly knock out a tooth and damage the gums and jaw. But other causes of tooth loss are more common. For example, poor oral hygiene is often a common denominator. Not brushing and flossing regularly can lead to decay and infection. When left untreated, this decay can become irreparable, and infection may progress to gum disease, or periodontitis. In its advanced stages, bacteria can penetrate the jawbone and cause it to deteriorate.

Chronic illnesses like diabetes are tied to tooth loss as well. Diabetes stresses the immune system and makes it harder for your body to fight off oral infections. These infections can damage the gums and jawbone, leading to lost teeth.

What Happens to the Jawbone

The alveolar bone surrounds and supports teeth, creating the ridge in which the teeth rest. When a tooth is removed or falls out, the ridge starts to atrophy because it no longer has the tooth’s chewing force to stimulate bone growth in that area.

For instance, consider the loss of molars in your upper jaw. As the bone in these areas resorb, the bone is consequently much thinner than before and now closer to the sinuses. In these cases, sinus lifts are often necessary before any sort of dental implant can be placed.

The erosion of the ridge may affect adjacent areas, too, causing other teeth to become compromised. This can end in further tooth loss.

Why the Jawbone Loses Structure

The presence of your teeth is what keeps your jawbone levels healthy.  Normal chewing pressure  stimulates the bone, which sends signals to the brain to provide proper nutrients to it. In the case of a missing tooth, the bone in that area no longer has adequate blood supply because there is no longer a living tooth in place, and with no more signals, the brain stops sending nutrients. This causes the ridges to lose both width and height over time.

What Dental Bone Grafting Is

Bone grafting is a dental procedure aimed at filling the empty space left by a missing tooth. This preserves the bone levels and ensures proper stability for a dental implant replacement. Ideally grafting occurs at the time the tooth is extracted but can also be performed later on. (For example, if a tooth has been missing for some time, you are still likely a candidate for a bone graft.)

Bone grafting usually utilizes bone from the patient’s own body. Other options are cadaver, animal, or synthetic materials.

The dentist then elevates the remaining gum tissue and cleans out the now-empty tooth socket. Next they place the bone graft material into the socket, attach a membrane to the gum tissue, and seal the socket. Your dentist may even prescribe an antibiotic afterward as an extra precaution against infection.

At a minimum, bone grafts help stabilize the bone level in an area where a tooth is (or has been) missing. But treatment doesn’t end there. Once the bone graft heals completely, the implant placement process can proceed.

What Dental Implants Are

Dental implants are small posts, typically titanium, on which a dental crown is eventually placed to replace a missing tooth.

Your dentist inserts the titanium rod, or post, into the jawbone. As the jaw heals, the natural bone fuses with the titanium post and secures it in place, much like it would a natural tooth root.

Once the bone and post have grown together, your dentist attaches another section called an abutment to the implant post. Now the implant is ready for its final step—to be topped with a dental crown.

How Dental Implants Help Preserve Bone

Dental implants provide pressure against the jawbone. This helps prevent bone resorption. Although the artificial tooth does not have the same kind of “root” as a real tooth, but the restored chewing forces still send the same signals to the brain that the jawbone needs additional support, which helps stimulate growth and maintain bone density.

A dental implant has benefits beyond encouraging healthy jawbone levels. By filling the void left by a missing tooth, it also helps you eat, speak, and chew without pain.

Are you concerned about your jawbone loss?

Whether you have lost a tooth due to trauma, decay, or disease, you may be noticing that the space where your tooth used to be feels much “emptier” than it did at first. You are likely noticing the natural bone loss we discussed earlier.

If you are in the Granite City area and are concerned about your jawbone loss or interested in how bone grafting and dental implant(s) can help restore your oral health, we would love the opportunity to answer all your questions. Schedule an evaluation appointment with Dr. May and the Metro East Dental Care team today!