Gum disease is bad. Most people know that much about the affliction, also known as periodontitis, and that it can lead to tooth loss and gum tissue loss. But lesser known is the fact that gum disease can also cause bone loss in the jaw.
Indeed, periodontitis can eat away at the critical bone structure holding your teeth in place. Often inspired by poor oral hygiene, bacteria in plaque go to work and cause inflamed and tender gums. We know this first stage as gingivitis. As the infection intensifies it attacks tooth support structure and teeth eventually fall out.
Signs of gum disease
A silver lining to gum disease is that it’s generally easy to identify. If you have any of the following, it’s time to see your dentist:
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Sensitive teeth (to hot or cold, or hard foods)
- Persistent bad breath
- Jaw or mouth pain during chewing
While these are all concerning issues, periodontal surgery options are available to help reverse existing damage and curtail future issues. Among these options is bone grafting.
If simply reading those words makes you shudder, you can relax a little. When a person loses a tooth due to periodontal disease or other infection or injury, dental implants are reliable, safe, long-term solutions. An implant is an artificial tooth inserted into the jaw to secure a replacement tooth. The implants look, feel, and function just like real teeth; however, bone grafting is sometimes required during the implant process.
Bone loss stemming from whatever cause will lead to deterioration of bone around the jaw and grafting creates a solid base on which to secure a dental implant.
How does it work?
Bone grafting is a fascinating process where a piece of bone from another part of a patient’s body is transplanted into the jawbone. Cadaver or animal sources are also sometimes used. The first step involves a periodontist folding back part of the gum to thoroughly clean out any infected tissue, bacteria, and address rough tooth surfaces.
Once the graft is placed, it typically takes several months for it to grow enough substantial new bone to allow placement of the titanium dental implant. When healing is finally complete, a periodontist will install an abutment into the jaw. The abutment is an extension of the metal post of the implant that allows placement of a tooth implant.
Bone grafting takes a lot of time but is often necessary for any implant procedures. After this type of surgery, patients can expect common effects such as swelling of gums or skin, bruising near the surgical site, or minor bleeding. Don’t be alarmed, however. These are common post-surgical effects and don’t last long. There will also be diet restrictions during each stage of the procedure, including eating only soft foods like bananas, soups, and yogurt; and staying clear of overly hot or cold foods or beverages.
Types of bone grafts
Bone graft procedures are generally classified into four types that differ per their material used:
Autograft (no, not a signature from your favorite celebrity) uses your own bone which is usually sourced from the hip or back of the jaw.
Alloplast is a graft which uses synthetic material blended with calcium, phosphorus, and hydroxylapatite.
A Xenograft uses bone from an animal, most commonly a cow.
Allograft is a bone graft using bone sourced from a human donor.
Keep in mind that all types of bone grafting are extensive surgeries that should only be performed by a doctor certified in periodontology and dental implant procedures. With multi-stage, complex surgeries such as this, it is very important to partner with someone experienced in the field in order to ensure the best possible outcome.
How to prevent bone loss
It sounds simple, but the best to prevent bone loss from gum disease is to prevent gum disease in the first place. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and target the gum lines. Floss thoroughly every day, at least once. Make sure you visit your dentist for regular checkups, no less than every six months.
If you do attract periodontal disease; diligent oral hygiene, a healthy diet of smartly selected food, and regular maintenance will significantly improve the likelihood you will keep your natural teeth all your life.