Maintaining Jawbone Health

Bone grafting can be a serious surgery, one not to be undertaken without serious consideration and preparation. Understanding jaw bone health can help you make smart choices, and avoid the need for bone graft surgery later in life.

Jaw surgery

How do Teeth Impact Jawbone Health?

The teeth and jawbone are a team. If one or more teeth are missing, it can directly cause jawbone loss on site. This can escalate into more problems, impacting both your health and appearance. If not addressed, it can eventually prevent patients from eating normally or impair talking.

Just like you need to keep your muscles in shape via exercise, your bone tissue requires use to stay in shape. Embedded into the jawbone are your natural teeth, and you “work out” your jawbone every day by talking, eating, drinking, biting or doing other activities. However, when teeth go missing, the part of the jaw that holds teeth in the mouth—the alveolar bone—isn’t getting a workout at all. It atrophies, just like your body would on bed rest, and gets reabsorbed.

Your body thinks that if you’re not using the jawbone, you don’t need it, so it deteriorates, and only bone grafting can repair the situation.

What Could Happen with Tooth or Jawbone Loss?

From sinus expansion to migraines, a number of ailments can occur when teeth are lost and/or the jawbone deteriorates.

Any remaining teeth might become misaligned, loose, drift or suffer bone loss. Patients might experience a collapsed facial profile or reduced lip support. Skin can wrinkle around the mouth, or other parts of the face can become distorted. You might experience TMJ, face pain or even headaches. Trouble talking or communicating can occur, and nutritional loss can happen when a person can’t chew correctly.

Some of the causes of bone loss are described below:

  • Tooth Extractions: Sometimes it’s necessary to remove an adult tooth, but jawbone loss can happen if it’s not replaced. How quickly the bone deteriorates, and how much, depends on the person. However, the majority of bone loss will happen in the first year and a half post-extraction and it will continue indefinitely.
  • Periodontal Disease: This disease can happen to anyone of any age, and is a continuous gum infection that will slowly destroy teeth—and the support of teeth via the jawbone. There are a number of diseases which can impact structures which support teeth, such as inflammatory lesions caused by plaque, but they’re overall put into one of two camps: Periodontitis and gingivitis. Gingivitis isn’t as serious and might not ever turn into periodontitis, but it always precedes periodontitis if that does happen. With periodontitis, bacteria that stick to the teeth along with an immune system that’s too aggressive exacerbates the situation. Gingivitis can serve as a warning sign of periodontitis to come, and happens when gum tissue is deteriorating. It becomes periodontitis when the bone holding teeth deteriorates. If not treated, teeth can be lost.
  • Dentures and Bridgework: Dentures which are unanchored are put on top of the gum line and don’t directly stimulate the alveolar bone below. In time, lack of stimulation can make the bone decline. With unanchored dentures, the bone is solely depended upon to keep the device in place, so many patients get loose dentures which cause issues talking and eating. In the long run, the bone loss can become so extreme that the dentures don’t work without incredibly strong adhesives, and patients might even require a brand new set. Just like natural teeth, superior care is necessary but so are refittings and repairs to maximize oral hygiene. In some cases, dentures may get anchor support—which provides stimulation and, in turn, bone preservation. Bridgework means that teeth neighboring the appliance are providing stimulation. However, the part of the bridge that “bridges” the missing tooth gap gets no stimulation. This means bone loss can happen here.
  • Trauma: Teeth can get broken or knocked out—it happens. When it does and there’s no “biting surface,” the bone is no longer stimulated in the jaw and this can cause jawbone loss. There are endless ways to experience jaw trauma, but common occurrences are car crashes, slip and falls, or other accidents. Sometimes teeth have a trauma history, or jaws are fractured, and that can cause jawbone loss several years after the first trauma. Bone grafting can help fix bone deterioration and even reverse it, prompting new bone growth and restoring function to the traumatized region.
  • Misalignment: When teeth are misaligned, they don’t have their complementary, opposing tooth to provide direction and stimulation. Over-eruption can occur when this happens, leading to jawbone deterioration. This can cause TMJ, too much wear and tear, and if it’s not treated, physical forces can make grinding and chewing difficult.
  • Osteomyelitis: This bacterial infection of the jawbone and marrow causes inflammation—and minimizes blood flow to the bone. Treatment for this infection is often an antibiotic regimen and sometimes removal of the infected bone. As part of the procedure, a bone graft might be necessary in order to prompt re-growth and restore function.
  • Tumors: Benign tumors in the face might not be life threatening, but if they get big enough some part of the jaw may need to be removed along with the tumor. With malignant mouth tumors, they spread to the jawbone the majority of the time—which means removing part of the jaw. Either way, bone grafting for reconstructive purposes can help bring back function (and appearance).
  • Developmental Deformities: Some birth defects cause pieces of the teeth, jaw, skull or facial bone to be missing or irregularly shaped. At Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah, Drs. Partridge and Maxfield perform bone grafts to bring back bone function and even promote re-growth.
  • Sinus Deficiencies: Sometimes molars are removed from the upper jaw, and air pressure from the maxilla cavity can cause reabsorption of the bone that used to anchor the teeth. When this happens, sinuses get enlarged (hyperneumatized sinus), which can take years to develop. In the end, this can lead to insufficient bone when dental implants are required. A sinus lift is a procedure to fix this issue.

Trust the Experts for Jaw Surgery

When jaws need repairing, it’s important to trust only the best qualified surgeons. Dr. Partridge and Dr. Maxfield at Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah have years of training, experience, and the expertise you require for a successful surgery and smooth recovery. Contact us today for a consultation.