It is estimated that approximately 60 percent of adults over 35, in the U.S., have lost at least one adult tooth to decay, disease, or mishap. Additionally, 36 percent of all elderly adults have lost all of their teeth. The three major options for replacing lost teeth are dental plates, fixed dental bridges, or dental implants:
- Dental plates are the traditional removable dentures that grandma kept in a glass of water on her night stand
- Fixed dental bridges are non-removable dentures that are anchored to the surrounding teeth
- Dental implants are individual teeth, or plates, that are anchored to the jaw bone
Of the three, dental implants are the healthiest option because they are anchored more securely, they reduce the risk of damage to the surrounding teeth, and reduce the risk of bone loss in the jaw.
How Lost Teeth Affect Bone Loss
While general bone loss can occur in the body as a result of aging or bone cancer, bone loss from your jaw can occur from periodontal disease, which can eat away at the jaw bone or from the loss of teeth. Using your teeth actually stimulates bone growth in the jaw, so if you lose teeth, the jaw bone is no longer stimulated and you end up losing bone.
Because the jaw doesn’t have a lot of real estate, bone loss in that area can be problematic because you don’t have a lot of material to work with. Bone loss in the jaw can make chewing and eating difficult and it can cause dental bridges and implants to fall out. Bone loss can also affect the range of motion in your jaw, making it difficult to talk and even breathe properly.
Replacing Lost Bone with Dental Implants
In people with tooth loss, dental implants can stimulate bone growth because they are anchored to the bone. However, if the implant fails, or the bone loss is for other reasons, the procedure for replacing lost bone can be painful, invasive, and expensive.
Currently, when someone experiences bone loss, dentists have to apply special proteins to the bones to encourage bone growth. Getting the proteins to the right area requires dental surgery because the dentist has to apply the proteins directly to the damaged area. If there are multiple areas of damage, the dentist may need to make multiple incisions, which is more invasive.
However, thanks to a joint discovery by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the NanoCarbon Research Institute in Japan, there may soon be an easier way to repair bone loss: nanodiamonds.
Nanodiamonds and Bone Repair
Nanodiamonds are tiny diamonds that are a natural by-product of the diamond mining process. Scientists have discovered that, when used to deliver bone-building proteins, these microscopic particles bond with the bone and help the proteins do their job more effectively.
Additionally, the nanodiamonds can be administered through an injection, or even an oral rinse, which is much less expensive, painful, and invasive than the current methods.
Scientists are currently experimenting with nanodiamonds in drug delivery and for repairing bone loss from osteonecrosis and chemotherapy cancer treatments. They also are looking at the application of nanodiamonds in dental implants to promote jaw bone growth, and to make implants more durable. If they are successful, it can make dental implants even more effective in preventing the bone loss caused by tooth loss.
That technology is still a ways off but, if successful, you could be a future candidate for diamond-containing dental implants. Rest assured, however, nanodiamonds are invisible to the human eye, so you’re not going to have a diamond-studded grill or look like the metal-toothed "Jaws" villain from the James Bond movies.