Dentist - Dr. Amy Norman, DDS, PS

New Bio-Foam May Replace Bone in Jaws

Dental patients with periodontitis and other periodontal diseases are at risk for losing jawbone because of their condition. Researchers from New York and Texas are collaborating on a material to serve as a replacement for lost jaw and skull bone material.

Periodontitis is an infection of the gums and other tissues that surround the teeth and attach them to the jawbone. The condition also causes irritation and inflammation of the gums, painful abscesses and tooth loss. Periodontal infections also put patients at risk for endocarditis, a serious and potentially life-threatening infection of the lining of the heart muscle.

Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Texas A&M University have developed a new foam product designed to replace bone lost to injury or infection. The foam, which can be shaped when heated in warm saline, allows physicians to fit the material to fill into hard to reach and uneven areas. Once the material is placed, the material hardens. The sponge-like foam encourages bone regeneration because its surface is covered with a special coating designed to attract bone cells and slowly dissolves as new bone is generated.

The ideal use of the material is in small areas of bone loss. Researchers on the project say the material could potentially be used in a larger area, but would require splinting to support the area until new bone has fully formed.

Jaw bone loss is currently treated with bone grafts taken from other parts of the body. There are limitations to bone grafts because the harvested bone cannot be easily used in all cases due to the varying shapes of treatment areas. Bone grafts are a surgical procedure and carry the risk of infection and complications. Jaw bone loss may also occur when a patient loses teeth, or as a consequence of oral cancer.

"When a tooth or multiple teeth are lost, either to infection, illness or injury, the bone beneath where the teeth were located begins to atrophy," Dr. Amy Norman, D.D.S., P.S., said.

The bone affected is known as the alveolar bone. The alveolar bone is the raised ridged of the jawbone that contains the sockets that hold the teeth in place. When a patient has periodontitis, the alveolar bone becomes inflamed as the infection eats away at the tissue, eventually wearing through the periodontal ligament. Once the ligament is severed, the tooth falls out.

Norman practices dentistry in Everett, Washington, and consults with patients with jawbone loss or atrophy and who are missing teeth because of years of poor oral hygiene, illness or injury.

"Many individuals are under the impression that losing a tooth is not a big deal, but tooth loss is the number one cause of bone loss in the jaw, seconded by periodontitis," Norman said.

The teeth, through chewing and biting, stimulate the alveolar bone and keep it alive. When teeth are lost, this stimulus stops, and bone begins to die.

Losing a tooth does have complications beyond bone atrophy and loss. Losing a tooth can cause the teeth around it to shift, loosen and even fall out. For some, tooth loss impacts their ability to chew and eat certain foods, which for some could lead to nutritional deficiencies and unhealthy weight loss. The patient’s speech may also be impacted by losing a tooth or teeth.

"Some people develop a lisp or other speech impediment as a result of losing teeth," Norman said.

This lisp may cause individuals to feel embarrassed or self-conscious in social settings or in relationships.

There are outward physiological changes that happen when a patient loses a tooth or multiple teeth, as well. Many patients develop a sunken or skeletal appearance.

Individuals with tooth loss benefit from dental implants. Dental implants grow into the jawbone and prevent atrophy from occurring, allowing the jawbone to remain intact and the patient to retain their teeth.


Source: Dentistry Today. "Bioactive Foam Replaces Damaged Skull and Jawbone." 12 April 2017

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