People with missing teeth sometimes look older than they really are as a result of the deterioration of jawbone that comes with tooth loss. Our Lethbridge periodontists explain why this happens and how dental implants can help.
Missing Teeth & Your Jaw Bone
To maintain its density and form, bone needs stimulation. For the jawbone, that stimulation comes from the teeth. Your teeth make hundreds of brief contacts with each other every day. These contacts produce small stresses on the teeth, which are transmitted to the bone. This prompts it to continuously regenerate.
When you lose a tooth, the stimulation it provided for the surrounding bone disappears, and this can result in bone loss. A single missing tooth is often the first sign of bone density being lost. Without the reinforcing presence the tooth provides, the bone in this area starts to shrink.
Bone density is further reduced as teeth keep breaking down and falling out, setting off a destructive cycle.
When enough teeth are lost and the bone continues to deteriorate, the distance from nose to chin will start to decrease in a condition known as facial collapse. Lacking structural support, the lips sag. This is why people with missing teeth can appear unhappy or much older than they really are. Over time, bone loss can also make you more susceptible to jaw fractures and erosion, impacting your ability to speak and chew.
In addition to jaw bone deterioration, the teeth that remain will start to shift into the gaps left by the missing teeth. In turn, this can cause additional bite problems and even jaw joint (TMJ) pain.
How Dental Implants Help
Dental implants are tooth replacements that are designed in part to prevent all this. For starters, dental implants can help to restore the function and aesthetics of your smile, allowing you to eat, chew and speak effectively while maintaining the appearance of strong, healthy teeth.
In addition, dental implants can actually prevent bone loss. This is because they are made of titanium, which can fuse to living bone. When dental implants are surgically implanted into the jaw, they become a permanent part of it, stimulating and stabilizing the bone to help it maintain its volume and density.
Dental implants are placed during an in-office surgical procedure using a local anesthetic. Then, either right away or after a healing period, they are topped with dental crowns. Together, these components look, feel and function almost exactly as a natural tooth would.
Since implants work much like natural teeth, they will exert the same amount of pressure against the jaw bone, which keeps it functional and healthy.
With regular brushing, flossing, and professional cleanings — the same maintenance and care that natural teeth require — your dental implants will be permanent and can last for many years, and possibly even for life.
Ask Your Dentist for Recommendations
When it comes to jaw bone density, time plays an important role. It's critical that gaps left by missing teeth are filled as soon as possible since the longer a patient waits, the more bone density will be lost, making it more difficult to insert a dental implant to reinforce the jaw bone.
Your dentist is an important resource when it comes to oral health and can make appropriate recommendations regarding whether you need a tooth replacement, and which one is right for you.