It's disappointing to lose permanent teeth at any age, but when an accident or tooth decay claims an adult's tooth, dental implants are the logical next step. They're the closest way to replicate a natural tooth, with the small metal implant functioning as a tooth root, allowing the prosthetic tooth attached to it to feel just like its natural predecessor. But what about seniors who need to have a tooth replaced? Are dental implants only a good choice for younger people whose jaw can support the implant?
Bite Pressure Absorption
The jaw's ability to support a dental implant isn't necessarily related to age. It's related to bone density, which changes when a permanent tooth is lost, regardless of age. The part of your jawbone that holds your dental sockets is called the alveolar ridge. It absorbs the bite pressure experienced by your teeth when biting and chewing, so this ridge is, unsurprisingly, strong and dense—until a tooth is lost.
After the loss of a permanent tooth, your body detects that the section of the alveolar ridge around the (now empty) dental socket will no longer absorb bite pressure. Nutrients (such as calcium) that would be supplied to the bone to maintain its density are now redirected from this section of your alveolar ridge. The bone then loses some of its density, which it needs to securely anchor the implant. Some patients (again, regardless of age), will require bone grafting before their dental implant can be placed.
A Healthy Jawbone
So the most important thing for dental implant success is good oral health, and more specifically—a healthy jawbone that's capable of supporting the implant. As mentioned, this is not always related to age. However, older adults are more likely to be affected by osteoporosis, which can cause loss of bone mass. Certain medications also affect bone metabolism, and if your doctor has prescribed anticoagulants or blood thinners, these may contribute to reduced bone density.
If you take medication that modifies your bone metabolism, your doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative, allowing your bone structure to regain its density in preparation for your dental implant surgery. Osteoporosis complicates your situation, but there are still solutions. Instead of using a typical endosteal implant (which integrates with the jaw), you may be a candidate for a subperiosteal implant, which is placed under the gums and rests on the bone, rather than needing to integrate with it—meaning that bone density is less of a concern.
Suitability for dental implants is less about age and more about bone health. While older adults may experience more bone-related medical concerns, there are ways to overcome these obstacles and successfully receive a functional dental implant.
Contact a dental practice like Total Dentistry to learn more.