Maybe your dentist told you one day, “You’ve got some bone loss in this section of your jaw.” Maybe that didn’t really mean much to you at the time. Actually, it’s a very important subject to understand because there’s so much riding on the stability and quantity of your jawbone. We’ll help you understand what’s going on.
You’re probably used to thinking of your jawbone as a solid block of bone that anchors your teeth solidly. When you’re young, that’s pretty much the case. As people get older, there are many reasons their jawbones could begin to erode. There are internal reasons (having to do with the person’s own health or teeth) and external reasons (like injuries).
The jawbone and the teeth are designed to work together, strengthen and support each other. When any parts of this system are missing or damaged, the other parts suffer.
Here’s a closer look at jawbone loss causes:
When a tooth is extracted and the area heals, the bone that was supporting that tooth no longer gets the same kind of pressure and stimulation. While this could sound like a good thing, it’s not. The bone is built to take that pressure and stimulation and without it, the bone begins to deteriorate. Resulting bone loss could, of course, destabilize teeth on either side of the extraction.
Some dentures are anchored to the bone and others simply fit on top of the gums and are anchored only with an adhesive. When dentures are anchored to the bone with a titanium implant (just like the device used for implanting replacement teeth), the pressures and stimulation of biting and chewing are transmitted to the bone, helping the jawbone stay healthy. Because an unanchored denture doesn’t transmit any of this stimulation, the bones of the upper and lower parts of the jaw can erode.
As with bridgework and unanchored dentures, bridgework transmits no stimulation or pressure to the areas that are missing teeth.
A broken jaw is the second most common facial injury after a broken nose. If a broken jaw is not correctly realigned and stabilized, the teeth may no longer meet properly. Because of poorly healed trauma or this misalignment of the teeth, stresses on the jawbone will be abnormal and bone loss may occur.
Misalignment can occur from other causes than trauma. A person may be born with a misalignment or problems with the TMJ (temporomandibular joint, where your jawbone fits into your skull) can cause misalignments. TMJ problems can arise due to arthritis, grinding your teeth, trauma or congenital defect. As covered above, these misalignments can cause non-optimum stresses on the teeth and jaws.
Abscesses in the teeth can cause infection to travel into the jawbone. Improperly extracted teeth or poorly done root canals can also produce infective material that affects jawbones. Blood flow to infected areas is impaired and bones can die, resulting in loss of bone mass in that area.
Both benign and malignant tumors can invade the jawbone and need to be removed. Portions of the jawbone may need to be replaced with bone grafts to restore normal shape and function.
When back teeth are removed from the upper jawbone, that bone can lose some mass just like the lower jawbone. The sinuses are right above these teeth. Loss of bone mass will thin the bone between the sinuses and the teeth, meaning there may not be enough bone if an implant in that area is desired.
There are many reasons that lost bone mass needs to be replaced. You need optimum bone mass to keep teeth firmly in place, to anchor dental implants, to enable you to continue to chew food normally and to maintain your appearance. Severe jawbone loss will cause the lower part of the face to look caved in.
Dental science has developed a few different methods of encouraging the body to grow new, solid bone in a patient’s jawbone. For example, small bits of bone can be harvested from other locations in the patient’s own body or donated bone can be used. Called “bone grafting,” this is a specialty surgical technique best administered by a qualified dental surgeon.
Because of her many years of advanced training in dental and facial surgery, Dr. Virginia Lee is the perfect person to perform bone grafts. When an oral surgeon performs a bone graft, they are done with more expertise, resulting in less pain and fewer complications.
Dr. Lee has been helping patients for years with all types of dental, jawbone and facial surgery needs. If you have concerns about bone loss, contact the Capital Oral & Facial Surgery Center for a consultation. We look forward to hearing from you.