For people missing one tooth or several teeth, dental implants are the most effective tooth-replacement option available. Not only do they look and feel more natural than dentures and bridgework, but they’re also sturdier, stronger, and longer-lasting. Dental implants are the only tooth-replacement solution that mimics the entire tooth structure, from root to crown, which gives them the added advantage of strengthening the jawbone. Because dental implants involve a titanium post surgically inserted into the jaw, candidates must have sufficient jawbone to support the implant. Unfortunately, jawbone loss is common in people whose teeth have been missing for a long time, even if they’ve used other tooth replacement solutions. So what causes bone loss in teeth, and can it be fixed?
What causes bone loss in teeth?
The four main causes of jawbone loss include:
1. Missing teeth
Missing teeth are one of the main causes of jawbone loss. The teeth and the jawbone have a mutually beneficial relationship. The jawbone anchors the teeth in place and provides them with the stability to bite and chew. The pressure from the biting and chewing in turn stimulates the jawbone, reinforcing it and keeping it healthy and strong.
When a tooth falls out or is extracted, the jawbone no longer receives the stimulation of the biting and chewing in that area. Before too long, the body begins to reabsorb the minerals that make up the bone cells, distributing them to other areas where they’re more needed. This causes the jawbone to atrophy (shrink), and it happens fairly quickly. Within the first year after extraction, approximately 25% of the bone is lost from the area. Although the rate of atrophy slows down after 18 months or so, it does continue after that time.
2. Periodontal disease
Gum disease is another major cause of jawbone loss. During the early stage, gingivitis, the gums become inflamed and tender, and may bleed when brushing, but it’s reversible with proper dental care. If left untreated, however, gingivitis advances to periodontitis, or advanced gum disease, which involves infection below the gum line. With proper care, periodontitis can be stopped but not reversed. Damage from periodontitis can include receding gums, bad breath, damaged ligaments, and bone loss. Qualified candidates for dental implants cannot have active periodontal disease.
3. Tooth infection
Tooth infections often result in a great deal of pain causing the individual to seek treatment right away. But some tooth infections are asymptomatic and can go completely unnoticed. Despite the lack of pain, the infection will still do damage, as bacteria inside the root of the tooth creates inflammatory toxins that spread to the jawbone, reducing blood flow to the area, and causing it to shrink.
4. Tumors and cysts
Tumors, cysts, and other abnormalities can also affect jawbone health. There are different types of growths that can be responsible for jawbone loss, including cysts filled with fluid, and benign or cancerous tumors formed from cells dividing at an abnormal rate.
Jawbone loss is silent, and may go unnoticed until your teeth become loose. This is one of many reasons for the importance of regular visits to the dentist. Through X-rays and other examinations, your dentist will catch signs of dental problems in their early stages, thus preventing damage and further complications.
Treatment for jawbone loss
The best treatment for jawbone loss will depend on its cause. Whether your jawbone loss is caused by infection in your gums, teeth, or bone, the infection needs to be treated first. If the bone loss is caused by a tumor, cyst, or other growth, that will need to be treated first as well. Once the cause of the bone loss has been addressed, a dental bone graft can be used to rebuild the jawbone to prepare you for dental implants. Your bone graft will help make you a better candidate for dental implants, but it’s important to remember that the bone graft will need to heal for a few months before the implant can be placed.
Rebuild your jawbone to prepare for dental implants in San Diego
Dental implants are the sturdiest, longest-lasting, and most natural-looking option for replacing missing teeth. If you’re missing teeth, but you’re not sure if you have sufficient bone to support dental implants, come see Dr. Kennie Kwok at San Diego Periodontics and Implant Surgery. Dr. Kwok is Board Certified in both periodontology and dental implant surgery, and he has extensive experience taking patients through every stage of the dental implant process, from evaluation to bone graft and from implant surgery all the way to a brand new smile. If you’re ready to replace your missing teeth and restore the radiance of your smile, give us a call at (619) 543-0905 to schedule your dental implant consultation today.