In the U.S. approximately 70% of the adult population is missing at least one tooth, and many individuals turn to modern dentistry in the hopes of restoring normal health and comfort, as well as restoring speech and chewing functions, and improving their appearance after tooth loss.
The more teeth a person loses, the harder it becomes to restore perfect tooth and bone health, and the higher the risk of developing periodontal disease, as well as bone loss, which is ultimately the most serious consequence of tooth loss. Bone diseased caused by missing teeth can lead to a number of problems for individuals.
Luckily, thanks to modern technological advances in the field, the problems caused by tooth loss and subsequent bone disease may be prevented by new treatments using dental implants.
What Causes Bone Loss?
Bone needs constant stimulation in order to maintain its form and density. The alveolar bone, which is a sac-like structure that supports teeth, depends on stimulation from the teeth themselves, such as occurs during the act of chewing. Teeth actually make contact with one another in fleeting ways hundreds of times during an average day. This constant pressure transmitted through the periodontal ligament that attaches teeth to the underlying bone actually triggers the bone tissue to continuously rebuild itself.
When you lose a tooth, the lack of stimulation causes a gradual decrease of density in the alveolar bone. Typically, individuals can expect a 25% loss of width in the alveolar bone within the first year after losing a tooth, and an average decrease in bone height of about 4 millimeters in the years immediately following tooth loss.
Once the alveolar bone loses density, so does the basal bone or jaw bone, which supports the entire structure of the lower face. This leads to laxity and sagging of the soft tissue in this area, causing an aged and sunken appearance, and potentially affecting the individual’s ability to chew properly. As bone density decreases, so does the surrounding gum tissue, and you may begin to see receding gums, with teeth appearing longer and parts of the roots showing.
Dental Implants versus FPDs
For the past six decades, the most common and effective treatment for missing teeth to prevent bone loss has been the Fixed Pontic Denture (FPD) or fixed bridge. This treatment involves using the teeth on either side of the tooth gap as abutment teeth onto which crowns are attached, with a bridge between them that contains the replacement tooth. This type of prosthesis, also known as a false replacement, usually take one or two weeks to craft at a dental lab, and provides an improved appearance and oral function, allowing the individual to smile, speak, and chew normally.
FPDs have been the treatment of choice in modern dentistry for decades, and have been widely used by dentists around the world. Many dental insurance carriers will usually cover this type of prosthesis, and this type of prosthetic treatment may last for as long as 10 to 15 years in most patients.
Still, there are problems associated with FPDs. In some cases, the abutment teeth supporting the fixed bridge may become weak or damaged over time, due to the accumulation of harmful bacteria, tooth decay, and/or stress fractures, which may eventually require additional treatment to replace these teeth and modify the fixed bridge.
How Dental Implants Work
With the recent development of implant dentistry, dentists now have more effective and longer lasting treatment options to provide their patients who experience tooth loss. For example, to replace a single missing tooth, the best treatment today would be a single-tooth implant. The dental implant actually replaces the root of the tooth, upon which a crown will then be attached.
Implants are made of titanium, which is a unique type of material that is totally biocompatible with the jawbone, allowing it to integrate into the bone itself and create a stronger base for chewing. The crown that covers the implant is also replaceable if it should become damaged, leaving the implant intact.
Research shows that over 99% of implants remain successful and functional over a minimum period of 10 years, with many of them lasting for the remainder of the patient’s life, while FPD failure rates are about 20% after 3 years, and about 50% after 10 years. So, while dental implants may seem more expensive than the traditional fixed bridge option, this treatment option is actually far more cost-effective than the FPD when one considers the long-term value of dental implants.
Moreover, dental implants also reduce the risk of tooth decay and periodontal disease, and pose no risk to the adjacent teeth, as no abutment teeth are required for this procedure.
Dental Implants versus Removable Dentures
Dental implants also offer a superior treatment outcome for patients who need to replace multiple teeth, including those who need to replace an entire arch or even an entire mouthful of teeth.
Recent studies conducted in the U.S. found that adults over age 60 are missing an average of 9 teeth, and about 30 million Americans, or 17% of the adult population in the U.S. has at least one full arch of missing teeth. Because of the rising numbers of elders in the U.S. population, it is expected that by 2020, some 37.9 million adults will need to replace one or two complete arches of teeth in their mouths.
For these patients, the only traditional treatment option available for many years was the use of removable full or partial dentures, which present a mediocre solution at best.
Removable dentures actually contribute to the acceleration of bone loss due to the pressure that they exert on the bone surface, as well as the gums and oral membranes, reducing blood supply to the area, and failing to stimulate the underlying bone structure. As bone loss accelerates, dentures tend to fit more loosely, which in turn worsens the problem, leading to a vicious cycle.
For these patients, a dental implant bridge provides a dramatic improvement to the removable denture solution. Implants may be used to support bridges, which eliminates the need for abutment teeth, and implants have been shown to be more than twenty times more effective than removable dentures at preventing bone loss. And, while removable full or partial dentures tend to reduce oral function to as much as one-sixth of normal healthy function, implants actually restore healthy oral function by nearly 100%.
While a fixed implant bridge would be the best solution for most patients, even a removable partial denture secured in place by implants to prevent slipping and ensure a tighter fit would be an improvement over traditional removable dentures.
Dental implants provide far more than just an aesthetic improvement and restoration of chewing function. They also provide the extremely important function of preventing future bone loss by fusing into the jaw bone and providing the needed stimulation to keep bone tissue healthy, because implanted teeth function exactly like natural teeth to stimulate the underlying bone tissue.
In many patients, dental implants also mean an improved diet, as many individuals with missing teeth or removable dentures report the need to avoid certain foods, such as salads, crunchy vegetables, nuts, and other foods that require a lot of chewing. These foods are ultimately those that best stimulate the underlying bone tissue, so the ability to eat more of these foods also leads to improvements in oral health, as well as overall well being.
If you’re interested in learning more about dental implants and finding a good dental implant dentist, contact Kenneth Cho Dentistry in La Habra, CA, where Dr. Kenneth Cho provides affordable top-quality dental implants for residents of La Habra, Brea, Fullerton, and neighboring communities in Los Angeles County.