Your mandibular ridge is the bony, horseshoe-shaped arch of tissue on your lower jaw. It used to support your natural teeth, but now, its job is to support your dentures. However, this ridge can resorb (dissolve) over time, leaving your dentures without the support they need. Here are four things denture wearers need to know about ridge resorption.
Why does ridge resorption occur?
The bone within your mandibular ridge—the alveolar bone—used to support your teeth. The roots of your teeth were directly implanted in your alveolar bone, and every time you bit down or chewed, your bone was stimulated. This stimulation was like a workout for your bone; it reminded your bone to rebuild itself and keep itself strong.
Now that you wear dentures, your alveolar bone doesn't get this stimulation. Since it's not getting any stimulation, the bone thinks your body doesn't need it anymore, and it starts to resorb.
How can you avoid ridge resorption?
When you don't have any teeth, the process described above is inevitable. This means that everyone who wears dentures will eventually need to worry about their jawbone resorbing and becoming smaller.
The only way to avoid this is to replace your dentures with implant-supported dentures. These are dentures that are anchored in place with surgically-implanted titanium posts. The titanium posts integrate with your jawbone and act as a perfect replacement for the roots of your natural teeth. When you bite and chew, the posts will stimulate your jawbone and remind it that you still need it. Ideally, this should be done within three years of losing your teeth, before the jawbone can resorb too much. However, even if you've worn dentures for a long time, you may still be a good candidate for the procedure. Just ask your dentist.
Why does it matter?
Ridge resorption may seem unimportant, but this condition can have serious effects on your oral health. The resorption process is continuous, so at some point in the future, your ridge will become too small to support your dentures. A stable, well-fitting denture won't be possible at this point.
Not being able to wear your lower denture will make it hard for you eat, which leads to inadequate nutrition. Without the support of your denture, your cheeks will collapse inwards, and your lips will lose their support as well. This will drastically change the look of your face, which can have a major effect on your self-confidence.
As your jawbone resorbs, it gets weaker, and a weak jawbone is easier to break than a strong one. If you suffer an injury, like a fall, you may break this bone. To avoid this and other problems, talk to your dentist about preventing ridge resorption before it starts.
Can it be treated?
If you've already developed ridge resorption, and can't wear your lower denture anymore, all is not lost. Your dentist can help you restore the size of your ridge through bone grafting. Bone grafting is a surgical procedure that involves attaching donor bone tissue to your existing bone to make it larger and stronger.
This donor bone can come from many sources. It can come from animals like cows or pigs, from other parts of your own body (like your pelvic bone), or from cadavers. Donor bone can even be made from ceramic or other synthetic materials. Once your lower jaw bone has been restored, your ridge will be large enough to support your dentures again. However, this bone will also eventually resorb, just like your original bone, so your dentist may recommend getting dental implants instead of another set of dentures.
If your lower dentures are getting loose, you may be experiencing ridge resorption and should seek dental services as soon as practical.