Your teeth are held in your jaw by the bone that surrounds them. When you have teeth, your normal functioning (chewing etc.) stimulates the bone around your teeth, telling it to remain in position. When you choose to or have to remove a tooth, your bone loses that stimulation an the bone level changes. Dentists call these changes “bone remodeling”.
When you have teeth, your jawbone has a scalloped appearance with the high points located between your teeth. So when you’ve lost a tooth, at first, the bone changes are helpful—otherwise you’d have spiky points left behind that could irritate your tongue! If you’ve had a tooth or teeth out, you’ve probably noticed that over time the area becomes more saddle shaped rather than scalloped.
Unfortunately, these bone changes don’t stop there. Without the stimulation that your tooth provides, your jaw bone keeps getting smaller and smaller and shorter and shorter. Over time, this can make wearing dentures (and making them for you) more difficult.
Think in today’s day and age that no one would need dentures? Today 35 Million people have no teeth and 90% of those wear dentures. And 23 million geriatric people have no teeth with an additional 12 million having no teeth in one arch (upper or lower). That's a lot of people!
There is a common belief that having no teeth means having no pain. If most denture wearers are honest, they will tell you that they’ve had periods of pain and discomfort because of their dentures. Traditional dentures rest on your gums. Any areas that push too firmly or rub on your gums, can create a sore spot. If you let it go, it can even create an ulcer. Also, food and other debris can get under the denture base and irritate your gums.
Even though your jaw bone is changing and shrinking all the time once your teeth are lost, the denture base itself doesn’t change—so over time, you may find that your denture rubs in areas that it didn’t before, or digs in to your gums, or doesn’t fit as well as it used to. The worst thing? Bad fitting dentures may cause more bone loss.
Dentists call the toothless bony area (that's covered by your gums) a ridge. Remember that this ridge is shrinking all the time. Unfortunately, the shorter the height of your remaining ridge, the harder it is to make you a new denture that will stay in place and allow you to function (chew etc.). Even the best fitting dentures provide only a fraction of the chewing force you have with your own teeth, so you really can’t afford to lose more because of not having enough ridge height to make a good fitting denture.
Are there ways to keep your bony ridge? Yes, there are. Ideally, you should try to keep your own teeth if it's possible. This might mean choosing to have a root canal and then restoring the tooth instead of removing your tooth. Dental implants provide some stimulation to the bone to keep ridge height in the areas where the implants are placed. They can also provide an anchor point for your appliance so that it’s not just relying on the close fit to your gums and the seal that creates to stay in place. Studies show that while an implant supported appliance does not quite match the chewing force of natural teeth, it does far exceed the chewing force provided by traditional gum-borne dentures.
**Note: Information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgment of your healthcare professionals.