If you are considering getting dentures, then you have probably heard about dental implants. For patients who don't want to deal with removable dentures that could shift and slide in the mouth—with potentially embarrassing results—dental implants have been a wonderful alternative.
But what if your jawbone has suffered bone loss? Age, diseases such as osteoporosis, lifestyle choices like smoking, or even genetics… these can all have an impact on how sturdy your bones are. Missing teeth themselves can even cause the jaw below to weaken. This means that many of the very people who need dentures also need help for their jaws to support those dentures.
Why do implants require a strong jaw? Dental implants can be used for anything from a single missing tooth to a partial or full set of dentures. The implants themselves are posts, usually made from titanium, that are inserted into the jaw to act as "roots" for your new teeth. The material of the posts will fuse directly with your natural jaw to anchor your teeth in place.
If you're missing a single tooth, that single replacement post won't put too much stress on your jaw. But if you're replacing an entire set of teeth, most implants require six to eight posts—twice that if you're doing both top and bottom teeth. There needs to be sufficient healthy bone in your jaw to accommodate that number of posts.
What can be done to strengthen the jawbone? Usually, if the jawbone is too soft or weak for the necessary number of implants, the solution is a bone graft. This means taking bone from another part of the body (like the hip) and surgically implanting it into the jaw; artificial or animal-harvested bone is also sometimes used.
This new material grows together with the original jawbone, strengthening it. However, it can delay the process of dental implants, especially if a large amount of new material needs to fuse with the old jaw.
Are there alternatives to bone grafting? One of the most promising techniques is called the all-on-4 procedure. All-on-4 implants are named after the reduced number of posts implanted into the jaw—four for each set of teeth. By proper placement and angling of the posts, these implants can often support a full set of teeth without requiring a bone graft.
Getting implants without a bone graft greatly simplifies—and quickens—the entire implant process, getting you back to talking, eating, and smiling as soon as possible. So no matter the state of your jaw, make sure you discuss all your options with a dentist, such as one from Arrowhead Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.