Dentistry has been around for centuries in one form or another. Evidence exists that even ancient Egyptians practiced oral hygiene and complex dentistry (fillings, bridges, and more), and dental practices like basic tooth drilling can be found as far back as 7,000 B.C.E. The only difference today is that we have more advanced medical facilities, equipment, materials, and techniques.
It wasn’t that long ago that losing teeth meant filling the gaps with dentures made from ivory, gold, and even lead. The story of George Washington’s wooden dentures is nothing more than an enduring myth, and it’s a good thing. Can you imagine the splinters?
These days, losing a tooth is not the end of the world. It can be upsetting, but the good news is there are several options for replacement. In addition to dentures or bridgework, many people have the option to install dental implants, which consist of a titanium post that bonds to your jaw bone for strength and support, as well as a crown, or false tooth, that attaches to the post and looks and acts just like the natural tooth you lost.
Of course, there is a caveat. In order to be eligible for a dental implant, you must have good oral health and you need to have adequate jaw bone to support the implant. What if you don’t have enough jaw bone? Are you stuck with dentures or is there another option? Here’s what you need to know.
Tooth Loss and Bone Loss When you lose a tooth, the conditions that caused it could also affect your jaw bone. This is especially true if your tooth loss was due to decay or severe infection, just for example. What’s worse, though, is that the gap left by a missing tooth can lead to deterioration of the portion of the jaw that once supported that tooth. If you’ve been missing a tooth for a while, your jaw may no longer be adequate to support an implant.
Unfortunately, you also have to start with a healthy mouth before you can consider the implant procedure. If you’re dealing with an infection or abscess that has spread to the jaw or surrounding gum tissue, you’ll need to work with your dentist to clear it up before you get an implant, and this could take weeks or months to accomplish, depending on the severity of your situation.
During this time, your jaw bone can weaken and deteriorate even further, so that when you are free of infection and in good oral health, your jaw is no longer suitable for an implant. This can be extremely frustrating and disappointing.
Ideally, your mouth will be healthy when you lose a tooth so that you can start the process of installing the implant immediately, before any bone loss occurs. In reality,
you may have to wait for an implant. If, however, your bone is in good shape, you should be okay to get an implant within about six months of tooth loss.
Building Up the Bone Even if you don’t start out as a good candidate for dental implants, there are steps you could take to become a good candidate. If you don’t have enough jaw bone to support an implant, you can build up the bone through grafting.
This procedure involves taking your own bone from other areas of the body where it isn’t needed and grafting it to your jaw bone to build enough volume to support an implant. Bone is most often taken from another part of the mouth and it generally takes a minimum of about three months to fuse with existing bone and become strong enough to support an implant.
Depending on your situation, others procedures like sinus elevation/augmentation or ridge expansion may be necessary, and these could add several months of healing time to your treatment schedule before implant is possible. There are also no-bone treatment options under development, but bone grafts are the tried-and-true method for preparing deficient jaw bone to receive implants.
End Results For patients that lack sufficient jaw bone to support implants, grafting could provide a solution. It may not work for every patient, especially if severe trauma or infection affected the area. You should speak to your dentist about the possibility of implants to find out if you’re a good candidate or if augmentation of existing bone is an option to make dental implants viable.