Getting dental implants after losing teeth can help guard against bone loss in the jawbone. But can you still get them if you've already experienced significant bone loss?
Keep reading to learn more.
Common Causes of Bone Loss
Osteoporosis. A common condition associated with aging, osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone density.
Periodontitis. As you may know, gum disease occurs when plaque builds up on your teeth and hardens into tartar. This condition can lead to gum recession, tooth loss, and even jawbone loss if left untreated. In fact, this is one of the most common causes of bone deterioration in the jaw.
The following can also contribute to bone loss:
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Smoking or using tobacco products
- Hormonal changes after menopause or pregnancy
- Some systemic diseases, such as cancer or diabetes
- Certain medications, like antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs
The Effects of Tooth Loss on the Jawbone
When you lose teeth, whether because of decay or an oral accident, the body will eventually resorb the underlying jaw tissue in response. The process is relatively slow at first, but it accelerates as time goes by—especially if you don't replace your teeth with a restoration, such as a bridge, dentures, or dental implants. When enough bone tissue is lost, your jaw will begin to change shape and size.
What is Alveolar Bone Resorption?
When teeth are lost, the bone that once supported those teeth begins to deteriorate. This process is called resorption, which is the breakdown of alveolar bone. The alveolar bone is the part of the jawbone that surrounds the roots of your teeth and holds them in place. Over time, gum tissue also recedes. This can lead to a sunken appearance around the face and mouth.
The more teeth you lose—especially if you lose all your teeth—the more severe these changes will be. In fact, after just one year of tooth loss, there can be as much as 25 percent loss in jawbone height. Up to 50 percent of jawbone height can be lost within three to five years. After five years, this number increases to 75 percent.
In addition to affecting your appearance, this deterioration can make it more difficult to wear dentures or retain dental implants.
Bone Loss and Dental Implants
Dentists consider a variety of factors before recommending dental implants:
- The number of missing teeth
- The cause of the patient's bone loss
- The amount of bone loss
- The region of the jaw where the bone loss occurred
For many people, dental implants are the best option for replacing missing teeth. They look and feel natural and can last a lifetime if correctly maintained. Dental implants also help preserve jawbone mass and avoid the sunken look that often accompanies bone loss in the jaw.
But what if you already have bone loss? Can you still get dental implants?
The answer is yes, if there's enough healthy bone structure remaining in which to place the implant. The implant itself will stimulate new bone growth and make it possible to restore your jawline to its natural shape. But if you're already missing a significant amount of bone, you may need additional treatment before getting a dental implant.
Bone grafting can help rebuild the lost bone structure in your jaw, making it possible for an implant to be placed. Bone grafting is a surgical procedure in which a small piece of donor tissue or synthetic material is placed to build up the jawbone so that an implant has something solid to attach to.
Because each patient is unique, recovery times after bone grafts vary but can take as long as nine months. After the jawbone has healed, an implant may be placed. Your dentist can advise you when your jawbone is strong enough to support implants.