I’m finally getting around to dealing with the tooth I lost about seven years ago. I was working two jobs to support my kids when it got knocked out during a pick-up hockey game, and there have always been too many things that had to come first. Well, my kids are all off to school, and I’m working with a dentist to get a dental implant. Now, I’ve been watching that spot in my gums sink ever since I lost that tooth, so I know something was going on, but my dentist is suggesting something called aesthetic ridge expansion. I listened when he was describing why it is needed, but I don’t really get it. Can you explain?
Gary, in Michigan
This is a great topic, Gary. Aesthetic ridge expansion isn’t on a lot of people’s radar, but it’s fairly common to need it when a tooth has been missing for a number of years.
The first thing that happens when we lose a tooth is that the body senses that it is gone. It immediately responds by beginning to absorb or resorb the minerals in the jawbone that once supported the tooth. This process progresses quite rapidly just after the tooth loss, and then slows. And as you say, you can see the result: the spot where the tooth once was has sunken in due to this bone loss.
During aesthetic ridge expansion, a bone graft will be placed under the gum line to bring it back up and into alignment with the rest of your gums. As it heals, the body will bring more bone building minerals back to the site, so the grafting material will actually integrate with your jawbone and become a part of it. Then when the dental implant is placed, the same process will integrate the implant and make it part of your jaw. The result is a very stable foundation and a gum line that will look as natural as it does around all the rest of your teeth.
I understand your reasons for not doing something about your tooth earlier, but it’s important to replace a lost tooth as soon as possible with a bridge, an implant, or another solution. That way the surrounding teeth will not move into the empty space, which can affect the bite and cause other problems.
Best of luck to you.
This Blog is brought to you by Atlanta periodontist David Pumphrey of Pumphrey Periodontics.