Replacing Bone for Dental Implants

Today, dental implants are the most popular tooth replacement option for American adults. Most adults, at any age, are good candidates for the tooth replacement treatment. However, one important criteria for implant treatment is having healthy bone tissue in the jaw to support the dental implants. Many adults have issues with the health of their jawbones due to previous struggles with severe gum disease. Fortunately, there are treatment options available to help these individuals to strengthen their jawbone tissue. Below is more information on dental treatments that are available to support implant treatment plans, including bone replacement treatment.

Gum Disease and Bone Loss

Left untreated, gum disease can lead to the loss of teeth, gum tissue, and bone. Advanced gum disease, called periodontitis, is a bacterial infection that attacks the tissue in the gums and jawbone. Here are the stages explaining how gum disease leads to bone loss:

  • Stage 1: Gingivitis: Daily oral hygiene practices like brushing and flossing, play an important role in stopping bacteria and dental plaque from building up along the gumline. If these practices don’t occur the buildup will cause inflammation and irritation in the gums. This stage of gum disease is when the bacteria causes the gums to swell, turn pink, and start to bleed.
  • Stage 2: Slight Periodontal Disease: In the second stage of periodontal disease the bacteria living in the plaque grows more aggressive, and the infection spreads to the bone. At this point, increasing brushing and flossing will not stop the gum disease and more serious treatment is necessary. Signs of this stage include increased swelling and bleeding gums, bad breath, and pockets developing between the gums and teeth.
  • Stage 3: Moderate Periodontal Disease: At this stage the same symptoms continue to develop, but the pockets grow deeper (approximately 6-7 millimeters) allowing more bacteria to buildup in the pockets and attack the tissue, bones, and immune system. For moderate periodontal disease deep cleaning treatments are needed to remove the bacteria deposits that are rooted in the gums.
  • Stage 4: Periodontitis: In the final stage, the infection is attacking the bone and tissues that hold teeth in place. The teeth will become loose and may fall out. Periodontal disease is the most common cause for tooth loss in adults.

If you think you may be developing symptoms of gum disease, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist. Symptoms of gum disease to be aware of include swollen or bleeding gums, sensitive teeth, and pain when chewing or drinking.

Bone Grafts and Gum Disease

There are dental treatments available that help reverse the damage caused by periodontal disease. For example, bone grafting is a commonly used procedure to treat more severe gum disease damage. During a periodontal surgery the periodontist will place a piece of healthy bone, called a bone graft, into the damaged jawbone tissue to help regenerate bone growth. During this surgical procedure the gums are folded back, and the infected gum tissue and bacteria below the gums are cleaned out. Next, the healthy piece of bone tissue is placed below the gums. This bone graft works with the body to kick start the development of new healthy bone. Bone grafting helps to repair damage caused by gum disease and increases the chance of keeping the teeth.

Types of Bone Grafts

There are several types of bone grafting materials that are commonly used today. The different types of bone grafts available include:

  • Autograft: This is when a patient’s own bone is used for the bone graft. This bone is harvested from another part of the body, such as the hip bone or the back of the jaw.
  • Allograft: Some providers prefer using healthy bone from another human donor.
  • Xenograft: A new alternative approach is using bone from an animal, such as a cow. This approach has been shown to successfully generate healthy bone growth.
  • Alloplast: The newest approach is the use of a composite synthetic material containing calcium, phosphorous and hydroxylapatite.

Unless you have a strong preference for one type of bone graft over another, your dental provider will choose the bone graft type based on your oral health and their prior experiences with bone grafting. If your dentist is planning a bone grafting treatment for you, you should make sure to ask them any questions you have about the types available, and the advantages and disadvantages of each of the materials.

Bone Replacement for Dental Implants

Unfortunately, a successful dental implant treatment requires a strong and healthy jawbone. If there is not enough healthy bone tissue, a bone graft may be needed before an implant treatment can be performed. If a bone graft is needed prior to a dental implant treatment, an additional procedure will be necessary. First, during the bone grafting procedure, a piece of healthy bone tissue will be transplanted into the jawbone below the gumline. Once the bone graft has been placed, a several month waiting period will be required to allow time for the transplanted bone to stimulate healthy bone development. During this period new bone growth will replace the grafted bone material. Once healthy bone has grown, it is be time for the dental implant procedure. In cases when only minor bone grafting is needed, the dentist may decide to perform the grafting at the same time as the implant placement surgery.

Are You a Good Candidate for Dental Implant Treatment?

If you have a history of gum disease and tooth loss and are interested in dental implants, you may be concerned about qualifying for the dental implant treatment. Fortunately, for patients with some history of bone loss, there are many treatment options available that make dental implants possible. For patients who have had bone loss and have unhealthy jawbones, bone grafting may be a treatment option to replace and grown healthy bone in the jawbones. The bone grafting procedure will likely add a few months to the overall tooth replacement process, but it will increase the chance of the implant treatment success.

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