Dental implants are the most prevalent and popular method of replacing missing or damaged teeth. As with body parts in other surgical procedures, dental implants must work with existing parts of the body—specifically the jawbone and gum tissue—to work effectively.
This becomes an issue when a patient has experienced a significant loss of bone matter or density and therefore lacks the physical support needed to ensure proper assimilation of dental implants. But does severe jawbone loss make dental implants hopeless, or can the condition be changed to make them possible?
How bone structure supports dental implants
Any time a patient receives a new “part” via a medical procedure, the body must support and adapt to it. That’s certainly the case with dental implants, which are secured into the patient’s jawbone and gums with the use of tiny screws.
But especially in cases when dental implants are intended to replace missing teeth, a dentist may inform the patient that their jawbones don’t have enough density or structure to allow implants.
This condition happens because the jawbone changes to accommodate its surroundings. When there’s a space where a tooth used to be, the jawbone “resorbs,” which means it recesses and shrinks down since it doesn’t have a tooth it has to support. The nutrients and materials the jawbone uses to support the now-gone tooth are diverted to other parts of the mouth; consequently, this results in a loss of density and the structural strength of the bone—making it unable to support new implants.
Procedures that restore bone density
In the past, patients with insufficient bone density simply couldn’t get dental implants at all. But technology and medical advances have changed that reality, and dental patients with compromised bone structures or low jawbone density now have a few options available that can help when they need dental implants.
In grafting, a damaged or low-density bone is combined with bone matter from another part of the body. Gradually, the two matters fuse, restoring a certain amount of density and strength to the damaged bone.
For dental implants, surgeons can take bone material from a patient’s body—most commonly the tibia, hip bones, or other parts of the jawbone—and graft it onto the part of the bone needed to support the dental implant. Some dentists use bone matter that’s been provided by outside donors, or even artificial bone matter that’s produced commercially.
After the jawbone has regained enough density, the dentist can safely apply the new dental implant to the area.
An alternate solution to restoring lost bone density is the zygomatic implant. This procedure anchors the implant in the zygoma bone, a part of the jawbone closer to the cheek that’s known for its high density.
Zygomatic implants don’t involve the redistribution or reapplication of outside bone matter like grafting does. They generally don’t require as much recuperation time as bone grafts, which can take between six and twelve months of recovery time. Typical recovery from zygomatic implants can take around four months.
Consult with your dentist to discuss the possibilities
Lack of bone density is a hindrance to getting the dental implants that many people require, but it’s possible to repair or work around the issues of insufficient jawbone support. Let your dentist know that you’d like to learn more about your options.