Osteoporosis and Tooth Loss
Because the low bone density associated with osteoporosis can affect the bones of the jaw, as well, your teeth and gums often can serve as an 'early warning system' for the condition.
Osteoporosis is a bone condition characterized by decreased bone mass and the subsequent deterioration of bone tissue, and is typically the result of the normal aging process. Also called "the silent disease", the condition progressively causes bones to become more porous, thin and brittle, thus more susceptible to fracture.
Although osteoporosis typically is most apparent in the bones of the hip, spine and wrist, it also may affect other parts of the body, including the jaw. Declining bone density in the jaw can lead to tooth loss as well as other dental problems. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center, 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and tooth loss affects approximately one-third of adults age 65 or older.
A portion of the jaw bone, called the alveolar process, supports and anchors the teeth. Several studies, the NIH says, have linked alveolar bone loss to an increased potential for tooth loosening and tooth loss.
Post-menopausal women are at a higher risk for dental problems due to declining bone density because they've stopped producing estrogen, which retards bone loss. According to the NOHA, an estimated 94% of women over the age of 65 show signs of dental bone loss. Women with osteoporosis, the NIH states, are three times more likely to experience tooth loss than those who do not have the disease.
Osteoporosis is typically asymptomatic in the early stages, and often diagnosed only after a problem arises, such as a fracture or lost tooth. However, because bone loss in the oral cavity can mirror what's going on in the rest of the body, the mouth in many instances can serve as an "early warning system" for the condition.
Oral indicators of osteoporosis may include:
If you are experiencing any of the above, please see your dentist. He or she may take dental x-rays to check the density of the bones in your jaw. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), dental x-rays are highly effective in distinguishing people with osteoporosis from those with normal bone density.
If your dentist has diagnosed you with low jaw bone density, please follow up with your regular physician (or ask for a referral) to check your overall bone health. He or she will make a diagnosis based on your medical history, a physical examination and a bone density test - a painless, accurate and non-invasive procedure that measures bone thickness.
The exact cause of osteoporosis is unknown; however, there are a number of established risk factors. Age, nutrition, lifestyle and genetics, as well as certain medical conditions and medications, can all play a part.
As with any chronic condition, prevention is preferable to treatment. Adopting habits that build and maintain strong bones early in life can go a long way toward maintaining bone density in all parts of your body — including your jaw - later on. However, there are several important guidelines you can follow to optimize your bone density and preserve your oral health:
Read tips for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
Learn why teeth are important for jaw bone health.
The materials on this Web site are for your general educational information only. Information you read on this Web site cannot replace the relationship that you have with your health care professional. We do not practice medicine or provide medical services or advice as a part of this Web site. You should always talk to your health care professional for diagnosis and treatment.