When you think of your dental health then you probably only consider your teeth. But, the gum and bone around them are crucially important. When you have your natural teeth, these are the tissues that help to support and protect them. If you lose natural teeth and want to replace them with dental implants, the health of your gum and jawbone are two factors that must be carefully considered before successful dental implant surgery.
Without the support of these tissues, your dental implants will not look as good as they should and could ultimately fail. Dental implant treatment is a procedure that ideally you only want to complete the once, so it is best to get every aspect of your treatment as perfect as you can. Doing so will help you to enjoy implant teeth that look good, and which have an excellent chance of being a long-term success.
Did You Know Your Jawbone is Continually Changing?
Your jawbone might appear to be inert and solid, but it is continually changing and remodeling. It consists of living bone cells that are constantly replaced as they begin to age and die off. If you lose a tooth, the bone that used to surround it will start to shrink because it won’t receive any stimulation from the tooth root.
It is this stimulation that ensured old bone cells were renewed as they died off. Eventually, as the bone resorbs, it can cause more oral health problems and might begin to destabilize adjacent teeth. These changes in the mass and density of your bone will also affect the overall dimensions of your face and especially if you lose multiple teeth.
Your Jawbone and Dental Implants
Preventing further bone loss is one reason why dentists often suggest dental implants as a means of replacing missing teeth, and, the sooner you replace teeth with dental implants, the better. The reason why dental implants can help to prevent bone loss is that they artificially replace a real tooth root, providing a similar level of stimulation compared with a natural tooth root. With this continued stimulation, any further bone loss is prevented.
However, for implant surgery to be successful, dental implants need a certain amount of strong and healthy bone for support, usually several millimeters. Just like natural teeth, if this bone isn’t present, the dental implants will not be strong enough for biting and chewing and will most likely loosen and fail. Your implant dentist will assess your jawbone very carefully using a cone beam CT scan which allows them to clearly visualize the amount of healthy bone, its mass, and density.
What If Bone is Missing?
If you don’t have quite enough bone, then don’t worry because it is very common for bone grafting to be carried out before implant surgery. There are several different types of bone grafts used for specific situations, but they all perform the same task which is to build up bone in areas where it is deficient. You might need a bone graft to restore missing bone around your sinus cavities, called a sinus graft or sinus lift, and this type of graft is frequently required before replacing upper back teeth with dental implants.
Your sinus cavities are large air-filled spaces, so the jawbone tends to be naturally thinner in these areas. Another type of bone graft is called a ridge augmentation and is used to widen or increase the height of the bony ridge that used to hold your natural teeth. Some bone grafts are placed at the same time as the dental implant, while larger bone grafts must be placed as a separate procedure and need time to heal and integrate with your own bone.
Where Does the Bone Come from for Grafting?
The bone used for a graft can be harvested from another site in your body, which eliminates any small risk of rejection, but it does mean you would require another surgical procedure to remove the bone, and of course, you would need to heal afterward. Another option is to use donor bone that could be human or bovine.
Donor bone is tested rigorously to ensure it is safe for use and is sterilized. However, it is becoming far more common to have some form of artificial bone that is formulated to encourage your own bone cells to grow on and around the graft, eventually replacing the artificial material with your bone. Your implant dentist can discuss which type of bone graft is most suitable for you and can explain the procedure in far greater detail.
If you do need a bone graft, the main thing to remember is that this is a common procedure and is very routine. However, if you do feel nervous at the thought of treatment then speak to your dentist about having additional sedation to keep you comfortable during your treatment.
Why Your Gums Matter for Dental Implant Treatment
Having strong and healthy gums is essential for successful dental implants because they will surround the implants, and even a slight loss of gum tissue can affect the functionality and appearance of an implant. Additionally, dental implants maintain good levels of bone more easily when they are surrounded by gum tissue that has a reasonable thickness. Sometimes the gum tissue is naturally thin or might be missing due to gum disease. A gum graft can help to restore missing gum tissue.
There are several ways your implant dentist can graft new gum tissue into the correct positions. One method is to take tissue from elsewhere in your mouth. Sometimes the tissue is removed entirely so it can be placed in position. Other times, if the gum tissue nearby to the deficient area is suitable, it can be stretched into position and is left to heal before being wholly detached from the donor site. There are also some artificial materials that may be used and which contain growth proteins to encourage new tissue growth.
It does take a lot of skill to carry out successful bone and gum grafts because they need to be placed in such a way as to ensure these new tissues are correctly shaped, complementing and protecting your dental implants. Make sure you ask your dental implant dentist about their skill and experience in tissue regeneration for dental implants.