If you have one or more missing teeth, then you may have heard that this causes bone loss in your jaw. However unless you have experienced this before, you may not exactly know what this means or the consequences it can have on your oral and overall health. Understanding what bone loss is, why it occurs, and how it affects you can help you to make informed decisions regarding your oral health.
For starters, bone loss is when the jawbone slowly deteriorates after the loss of one or more teeth. The bone loss process usually begins about six months after a tooth is lost and will continue to progress. While the effects of bone loss can be noticed with a single missing tooth, the effects of bone loss are more pronounced in individuals who have multiple missing teeth.
To understand why bone loss occurs, we need to establish a brief understanding of how bones grow. Despite their solid structure, bones are constantly growing and breaking down at the cellular level. The cells that grow new bone are known as osteoblasts, while the cells that break down bone are known as osteoclasts. In order for the body to produce osteoblasts, the bone must receive physical stimulus in the form of pressure. When a tooth is lost, however, there is no longer pressure from chewing or biting to stimulate the bone. In response to this lack of stimulation, the body begins to produce more osteoclasts, which ultimately causes the jawbone below the missing tooth to break down.
Although the osteoblasts are still producing new bone, they are doing so at a much slower rate than the osteoclasts are breaking down bone. This is why the bone loss process occurs slowly instead of instantaneously. In most cases, the majority of bone loss occurs within the first 18 months after a tooth is lost, then it will continue slowly over time. However, this can vary by the individual and some people may lose bone at a faster rate than others.
As you can imagine, losing bone mass in your jaw will inevitably affect you in some way. At a glance, here are a few key consequences of jawbone loss:
- Skin around the mouth loses support and wrinkles
- Remaining teeth can shift in position or become loose
- Inability to eat certain foods, which can lead to malnutrition
- Premature facial aging (collapsed facial profile)
- Distortion of other facial features
- Problems with the temporomandibular joint that can cause facial pain and headaches
- Problems speaking properly
- Eventually dentures will no longer fit
- Thinning of the lips and a lack of lip support
- May require more extensive dental procedures in the future
At this point, you are probably wondering how you can prevent bone loss. The best way to prevent bone loss is to prevent tooth loss by brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting your dentist regularly for exams and cleanings. However, if you already have one or more missing teeth, that advice is of little help.
For individuals with one or more missing teeth, bone loss can be prevented by having dental implants placed. Dental implants are artificial tooth roots that are implanted into the jawbone to provide the necessary stimulation to maintain bone mass. Even people who have already suffered some bone loss may be able to have dental implants placed with the help of a bone graft to promote new bone growth.
If you have one or more missing teeth, you will want to schedule a consultation with your local Chicago dental implant specialist as soon as possible to determine if you are eligible for dental implant placement. Since bone loss is an ongoing process, the sooner you can make an appointment, the better.
Irfan Atcha, DDS, DICOI, DADIA at New Teeth Chicago Dental in Chicago, Illinois is a board-certified general dentist and a nationally recognized expert in dental implants, cosmetic dentistry, and sedation dentistry.