What happens when we lose a tooth? How can we prevent the bone loss that comes with missing teeth, and why is it important? Everything I do as a dentist revolves around prevention. Preventing oral disease and protecting the teeth have benefits that last a lifetime. I’ve seen older patients in their 70s and 80s still have strong bones supporting good teeth. However, plaque and sugars attack the mouth all day long. If we do nothing to prevent this, oral disease can set in.
Bone Loss Associated With Missing Teeth
If a tooth is lost or needs to be extracted as the result of tooth decay and gum disease, the bone where the tooth roots used to be is compromised—in the first year of tooth loss alone, 30 to 40 percent of the jaw bone disappears where that tooth used to be. After this, the bone loss is much more gradual, but you still don’t want to wait years to replace a missing tooth—you might not have the necessary jawbone structure to replace it with a dental implant.
But you may still have the option of bone grafting to build up your jawbone enough to successfully place an implant. Bone grafting is a common procedure and works well, but doing the implant within a few months rather than a few years after tooth extraction can help the bone naturally retain its thickness and height to support a dental implant.
Preventing Bone Loss is Best for Overall Health
Here’s another essential point to remember: your entire facial structure can change even with a single missing tooth. Our facial features are reliant on the form of our upper and lower jawbones. For patients who wear a full set of dentures, their entire face appears collapsed or sunken upon removing the dentures. This effect is even apparent in people who are missing just one tooth.
For example, I had a patient who needed to have a single molar removed on one side. The patient noticed that one side of her face looked more sunken, and the difference was apparent. We ended up replacing the tooth with a dental implant to restore her tooth as well as her appearance.
By keeping our teeth, not only are we maintaining jawbone integrity and our facial structure, but also preventing tissue collapse that can affect our risk for sleep apnea. Teeth support the initial area where our airway begins—the mouth—and collapsed tissue as the result of missing teeth can influence the onset of sleep apnea, which is when the airway narrows or closes during sleep and obstructs breathing.
Why not prevent muscle and bone atrophy to prevent problems later in life? By maintaining our teeth for as many years as we can, we can age much more gracefully and protect both our oral and bodily health.