Cavities in the teeth can be unsightly and painful. The bacteria that cause them can also cause tooth bone loss beneath the gum line, even eating away at your jawbone and the ligaments that hold your tooth in place. Left unchecked, you can lose a tooth and, as a result, experience even more bone loss.
How Bone Loss Progresses
Once periodontal disease causes the loss of your tooth — either because the dentist extracts it or it becomes so loose it falls out — the bone that surrounds the tooth starts to deteriorate. You see, the chewing motion and pressure of use is what keeps the bone healthy and developed, so once the stimulation is gone, bone starts to atrophy.
Over time, the bone reabsorbs into the body. Roughly 25 percent of the bone is lost the first year, and the bone loss continues on thereafter, according to Pasadena Periodontics. Bone loss can make it difficult to bridge the gap by necessitating an unusually long implant tooth or leaving a triangular food-trap gap on each side of a bridge. Severe bone loss can even leave too little bone for the dentist to anchor an implant.
The problem can be especially severe when an upper tooth is lost. The supporting bone can not only be reabsorbed, but the pressure of the air from the sinus cavity above can contribute to the condition progressing into the bones that line the sinuses.
Dentures Won't Help
Although dentures will exert a little pressure on the bone below them, it's only about 10 percent of the pressure applied by a normal tooth. In fact, dentures can actually speed up the bone loss process by wearing away the bony ridges that they rest on. As a result, resorption of the bone progresses as you chew, resulting in a constant battle with ill-fitting dentures, sore spots or pain when chewing.
Even worse, tooth bone loss can quickly progress to a point where the lower third of the face appears to collapse, giving the mouth a puckered, sunken appearance between a protruding chin and nose. The facial collapse results in deep lines around the mouth and saggy jowls that can make you look far older than your actual age.
Focus on Healthy Bone Density
The key to maintaining healthy bone density is to make sure enough chewing pressure is put on the bone supporting the tooth. Misalignment of teeth — even if you haven't lost any — can also reduce chewing pressure to the point where the bone deteriorates. Your dentist can recommend proper treatment to maintain and maximize chewing surfaces that will keep your teeth's supporting bones healthy.
If you've already lost teeth and the bone hasn't diminished too much, your oral care professional can insert an implant or a three-to-four-tooth bridge supported by implants that can substitute for up to 80 percent of the bone's chewing pressure.
In situations where bone loss below the tooth has already progressed, a bone graft may be needed. A bone graft is the only proven way that tooth bone loss is reversible; it stimulates the patient's jaw to produce new bone tissue.
Try Ancient Wisdom
For thousands of years, the Chinese have been using a fernlike herb known as drynaria in medicine to help promote bone healing. Its Chinese name, Gu-Sui-Bu, literally means "mend broken bone."
The rhizome of the plant or its extracted flavonoids have been the subject of numerous osteoporosis studies over the years. A 2017 study published in Molecules showed that rats given the herb showed elevated bone tissue density, even when they were prevented from using their limbs.
Although potential side effects from taking the herb are usually mild and limited to dizziness, nausea or gastrointestinal discomfort, it's crucial to consult your doctor before taking it because it can cause interactions with several medications. Pregnant or lactating women, as well as patients being treated for chronic anticoagulation, should not take it.
Trick Your Mouth
Leprechauns are known as Irish trickster fairies, but no one says they can trick your mouth into keeping your bone density optimal if you have periodontal disease. One dentist in Belfast, Ireland, however, does believe in the magic of tricking your mouth to do just that.
OK, so maybe it's not technically magic. What it involves is convincing your body to produce new bone tissue to keep your choppers nice and tight in their sockets. The trickery involves spreading a gel of enamel matrix proteins (EMPs) to encourage the bone to grow and stop cells that eat away bone in their tracks.
The gel comes from developing teeth in pigs, is compatible with humans and doesn't cause allergic reactions. It mimics proteins naturally secreted when teeth develop. You can't buy it in a tube, though. Your dentist must analyze each tooth's potential for the treatment.
Read more: 7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Smile
Support Your Mouth Naturally
Although there aren't any studies proving tooth bone loss is reversible naturally, proper dental care, attention to your health and supplementation can help prevent it and slow it down.
- Check your health. According to a 2019 review of recent studies published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, several health conditions can exacerbate periodontal disease that causes bone loss. Diabetes causes high glucose levels in the body, contributing to decay of teeth and their underlying bones. Other health issues associated with dental disease include dyslipidemia and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Take your probiotics. Poor gut health contributes to diabetes and, as a result, periodontal disease, according to a 2019 study published in Oral Disease.
- Ditch the smokes. Cigarettes increase plaque production, contributing to periodontal disease. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Investigative and Clinical Dentistry found that smoking status was a major factor in oral health.
- Visit the dentist. The same study determined that patients who regularly went to a dental clinic for maintenance on their teeth had significantly lower periodontal disease than those who only went when their teeth required an intervention.
- Get your vitamins. Eat a diet rich in vitamin C, vitamin D and calcium. Magnesium and vitamin B12 are other vitamins associated with maintaining good oral health. Ask your doctor if supplementation to prevent bone loss in teeth is right for you.
Is This an Emergency?
- Pasadena Periodontics: Bone Loss and Its Treatment
- Nutrition Review: Drynaria
- The Irish News: New Technique Tricks Mouth Into Growing Bone
- Healthspan: Natural Ways to Avoid Bone Loss Around Teeth
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health: Total Flavonoids of Drynariae Rhizoma Prevent Bone Loss Induced by Hindlimb Unloading in Rats
- LiveScience: Leprechauns: Facts About the Irish Trickster Fairies
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health: Correlation Between Diabetes Mellitus and Periodontitis in Taiwan
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health: Influence of Porphyromonas Gingivalis in Gut Microbiota of Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Mice