Bone density affects all parts of our bodies, not just our spines and hips. In this way, osteoporosis, or the thinning of bones, has an immediate connection to tooth loss. According to the National Institutes of Health, women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to experience tooth loss than those without the bone disease.
In the U.S., roughly 40 million people already have osteoporosis or are at-risk due to bone density. The word osteoporosis literally means “porous bones” in Greek, and the condition occurs when our bones lose calcium and minerals, causing them to become weak and brittle. Bone is a living tissue that constantly regenerates, yet when the creation of the new bone doesn’t keep pace with the removal of old bone, osteoporosis kicks in. As a result, people are more prone to a painful fracture, even while doing everyday tasks, such as bending over or taking out the trash.
In 2009, a study conducted by Dr. Nicopoulou-Karayianni at the University of Athens Dental School evaluated 665 females aged 45 to 70. The number of teeth and bone density in the hips, femoral neck and lumbar spine were counted. The results showed that participants with osteoporosis had an average of three fewer teeth than subjects without the bone disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Skeletal bone density and toothless grins
Though the correlation between skeletal bone density and tooth loss is evident, researchers have tried to probe the causes more deeply. According to the Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center, studies indicate a link between the bone disease and bone loss in the jaw. The portion of the jaw bone that anchors teeth is called the alveolar process, and when that bone structure becomes less dense, tooth loss can occur.
Black-holed smiles are more common than we may realize, with tooth loss affecting nearly one in three adults aged 65 and older. As far as osteoporosis goes, white and Asian women are more likely to develop it, especially after menopause since the fall in estrogen levels can trigger depleted bone mass.
Link between gum disease and bone health?
Robin Seymour, a professor of restorative dentistry at Newcastle University, explained to the Daily Mail that a history of periodontitis, or advanced gum disease, and osteoporosis both play a role in tooth loss. For those suffering from gum disease, bacteria and plaque erodes the gum line, and the gums pull away from the teeth, causing them to fall out. However, the exact cause-and-effect relationship between the gum disease and bone disease is a bit less clear. Some studies point to a connection between bone density and periodontitis, while others believe it is more indirect. It is possible that the drop in bone mineral density leaves the bone more vulnerable to periodontal plaque, thereby increasing the risk for gum disease and tooth loss.
Keeping bones strong
If you have osteoporosis, there is even more reason for you to stay diligent on oral hygiene habits. Dentists recommend that you floss once a day and brush twice a day, for two minutes each time. Undoubtedly, keeping a clean mouth greatly diminishes the chance for dental problems, including the loss of teeth.
Many people think bone weakness should be accepted as a natural part of growing older. Don’t believe it. One of the best ways to reduce the risk for osteoporosis is by maintaining a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. As we age, we need more of this important vitamin. Getting treatment for thinning bones could even prevent your teeth from falling out.
Exercise also plays a pivotal role in preventing and treating osteoporosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with the bone disease, start a regular workout routine to reduce the risk of bone loss. To ensure the benefits of your workout, talk to your doctor.
Finally, report any problems with loose teeth, receding or ill-fitting dentures to your dentist.