Bone Grafts Help Patients’ Jaws Support Dental Implants

Approximately 178 million Americans are missing at least one tooth according to the American Academy of Prosthodontists. The two most common reasons for tooth loss are decay or gum disease says oral surgeon, Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS, MS of Pinnacle Oral Surgery Specialists in Rockwall, Texas.

“Research shows only about 30% of Americans actually floss their teeth every day,” Pollock said. “Flossing is vital for the health of teeth and gums because it removes food particles the brush just can’t reach and prevents plaque from eating away at the gums, teeth and bones.” 

Once a tooth is lost, there are quite a few options when determining what to do next. The first is to do nothing. Unfortunately, many choose this option simply because they don’t realize the damage not replacing a tooth does to their mouth, believes Pollock.

“When a tooth is lost, the rest of the mouth immediately begins reacting to that empty space,” Polloclk said. “Other teeth begin to shift to fill the gap and this can throw off the entire alignment of the bite. If the bite is off it can lead to TMJ problems and place excessive wear on the teeth.”

One option to prevent the shifting of the teeth after tooth loss is a dental bridge. A bridge can replace a single tooth or multiple teeth that have caused a larger gap. It attaches to the neighboring teeth and looks and feels like a natural tooth. It’s one of the more cost-effective permanent ways to replace a missing tooth, but since it doesn’t replace the tooth all the way down into the root, the jaw bone is not stimulated when chewing.

A dental implant involves the placement of a titanium post into the jaw bone in the space that the root of the tooth once occupied. A natural looking crown is screwed onto the post for a smile free of gaps. Implants can be one of the more expensive ways to replace teeth but their strong, supportive approach make them a great option for maintaining the health of the jaw bone which can deteriorate over time in areas that aren’t stimulated by chewing anymore.

For those that choose implants, it can be discouraging to find out they aren’t candidates for the procedure due to bone loss. The longer a lost tooth or set of teeth are missing without being replaced, the more damage that is done to the mouth says Pollock.

“When there’s nothing to stimulate the root and jaw bone, it begins to deteriorate,” Pollock said. “The jaw bone is actually reabsorbed which means there may not be enough of it left to support a dental implant.”

Thanks to advances in dental science, patients that find themselves in this position do have hope. Pollock and other oral surgeons like him o ffer something called bone augmentation, or a bone graft, to rebuild and restore the jaw bone so it will be healthy and strong enough to receive and support a dental implant. Many times the tiny piece of bone needed can be taken right from the patient’s jaw during the procedure.

Although dentists may have differences of opinions when it comes to the best way to replace a missing tooth, they seem to agree that replacing the tooth is vital to your long-term oral health.