Avoiding the Dangers of Bone Loss with Dental Implants

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Avoiding the Dangers of Bone Loss with Dental Implants

Dental implants can provide a truly winning solution for patients who have lost a tooth.  For the 70 percent of adults in the U.S. who are missing at least one tooth, dental implants provide the most optimal solution for restoring normal speaking and chewing functions, as well as providing aesthetic improvements for those who have unsightly gaps in their mouths.

The restoration of healthy tooth and bone tissue is important, not only for aesthetic reasons and to restore healthy chewing and speaking function, but also to prevent the risk of developing advanced periodontal disease, and subsequent bone loss, which may lead to significant health problems for individuals. Bone loss in the lower jaw also cause an aged and sagging appearance that may be improved with the insertion of dental implants to restore proper jaw function.


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The Dangers of Bone Loss

In order to maintain a healthy form and density, bone tissue requires constant stimulation, and this is achieved my maintaining a healthy bite.  When a person’s bite is normal and all the teeth solidly are in place, the alveolar bone, a sac-like structure that surrounds and supports each tooth, receives constant stimulation through the act of chewing and the fleeting contact that teeth make with one another during the course of each day.  Each tooth is attached to the bone by means of a periodontal ligament, which transmits pressure, stimulating the underlying bone tissue to continuously remodel and rebuild itself.


Once a tooth goes missing, this whole system of healthy bone maintenance gets thrown off, and the lack of regular stimulation to the bone tissue results in a gradual decrease of alveolar bone density. It is not uncommon to see a 25% decrease in width of the alveolar bone during the first year following the loss of a tooth, as well as an average decrease of about 4 millimeters in bone height during the next few years.

A reduction in alveolar bone density also affects the basal or jawbone, leading to an aged appearance caused by a reduction of support for the lower facial structure.  The soft tissue of the lower face begins to cave in, cheeks become hollow and sunken, and sagging jowls may develop as the lower face responds to the loss of its inner support structure.  Moreover, as more and more bone density is lost, the surrounding gum tissue begins to recede, causing an unattractive aged appearance in which the teeth appear longer as parts of the roots become exposed.


Traditional Treatments for Tooth Loss

The most commonly used treatment for tooth loss over the past 50 years or so has been the Fixed Pontic Denture (FPD) also known as a fixed bridge or false replacement.  An FPD is attached to the gum by using the teeth on either side of the missing tooth as abutment teeth.  These teeth then support the crowns and/or bridge used to replace the missing tooth or teeth.  An FPD is a custom-designed prosthesis that provides improvements to the facial appearance as well as restoring speaking and chewing function.

FPDs have been used in modern dentistry for decades around the world, and are commonly covered by many dental insurance providers.  The life span of a false replacement prosthesis may be as long as 10 to 15 years, but many patients develop problems with FPDs over time.

In some patients, the abutment teeth onto which the fixed bridge is attached may weaken over the years, as a consequence of tooth decay or fractures.  In many patients, an FPD will need to be replaced or modified several times during the course of the patient’s life.


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The option of Dental Implants

Fortunately, implant dentistry now offers more effective and longer lasting tooth replacement options that typically last a minimum of 10 years and in many cases may last for the duration of the patient’s lifetime.

Dental implants are normally made of titanium, a unique biocompatible metal that easily integrates with human bone tissue, supporting and strengthening the alveolar bone and the entire basal bone structure.  They are essentially titanium screws that are inserted into the bone tissue, and then covered with a crown that resembles the patient’s natural tooth or teeth, to create a perfectly natural-looking and fully functional tooth replacement solution.  If something goes wrong with the crown on the implant, the crown may be removed and replaced, while the underlying implant remains intact.

In contrast to FPDs, studies have demonstrated that over 99% of implants last a t least 10 years, with many lasting throughout the remainder of the patient’s life, while FPDs have a failure rates of about 20% after 3 years. About 50% of FPDs will need to be repaired or replaced after 10 years.  This means that dental implants are actually a more cost-effective solution than the less expensive false replacement option when one compares the total cost of each treatment over the long-term.

Dental implants are screwed directly into the patient’s bone, and require no abutment teeth, so the adjacent teeth remain unaffected.  This translates to easier cleaning and better oral hygiene, which naturally reduces the likelihood of harmful bacteria accumulating around the adjacent teeth, and the subsequent periodontal disease that may develop as a consequence of tooth decay.


How Dental Implants Work

Dental implants may be used to replace a single missing tooth, or they may be used to replace multiple missing teeth.  Even patients who have lost an entire arch of teeth (upper or lower) or those who have lost all their teeth may benefit from dental implants.

In recent studies, most adults in the U.S. over the age 60 reported an average of 9 missing teeth, and about 30 million adults in the U.S. reported missing at least one full arch of teeth.  As the number of senior citizens in the U.S. increases, it is estimated that the number of adult who will need to replace at least one full arch of teeth may increase to 37.9 million adults by 2020.

For many years, the only tooth replacement option available for these patients was to be fitted with removable full or partial dentures, a solution that unfortunately leaves much to be desired.

While removable dentures may improve a person’s appearance and provide some improvement in chewing function, they do nothing at all to protect against bone loss.  In fact, loose-fitting dentures may actually increase the risk of bone loss because they transfer the applied pressure from the underlying bone structure to the surface of the bone, wearing down bone tissue, as well as the tissue of the gums and oral membranes.  By reducing the supply of blood to the affected area and stimulating the surface instead of the underlying bone structure, bone loss may actually accelerate, causing removable dentures to fit more loosely, and furthering the damage to the underlying bone tissue.

While many patients who wear removable dentures report a loss of normal oral function such as chewing and speaking, and many report having to avoid certain types of foods, implants can restore practically 100% of healthy oral function, allowing patients to eat a more varied diet which naturally leads to improved health.

A dental implant bridge provides a much more effective alternative to removable dentures.  Dental implants may be used instead of abutment teeth to support bridges.  The titanium that implants are made of is also much stronger and more durable than the material that removable dentures are made of.  And implants are roughly twenty times more effective at preventing bone loss than removable full or partial dentures because they transfer the daily pressure onto the supporting bone tissue, while also reinforcing and strengthening the bone.

Another option for some patients is to secure a removable partial denture by anchoring it to dental implants in order to ensure a better fit.  This solution provides the benefit of transferring at least some of the pressure on teeth to the inner bone structure, while also providing more comfort and restoring a much higher percentage of normal oral function.


 If you’d like to learn more about dental implants and how they can change your life, contact Dr. Terry Song at Access Dental Care in South Reno, a renowned dental implant dentist, serving residents of Reno, Sparks, and nearby communities in Nevada.


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