Most Americans see their dentist more than they see their doctors for regular checkups, meaning oral professionals play a crucial role in healthcare. Dentists’ roles have now evolved to include screenings for various non-dental related conditions that commonly occur in people of specific demographics; everything from sleep disorders to oral cancers and even osteoporosis.
Research has shown that x-rays conducted during routine oral exams or cleanings have effectively identified osteoporosis or low bone density in patients. Meaning, people are more likely to become aware of the condition sooner due to routine dentist appointments, leading them to seek treatment for their condition earlier and improving their chances of mitigating negative consequences as they age.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to lose their density, becoming brittle and more likely to fracture easily. The name itself literally means “porous bone”! Bones are dense, but they’re not solid all the way through; inside the bone’s structure, there’s a complex set of webs of bone matter that connects to reinforce its strength and structure. In healthy humans, the holes that comprise these web structures are small, making them dense. In humans with osteoporosis, these holes are much larger, making the bones less dense and much more fragile.
Causes of Osteoporosis
Bones are continually absorbing and rebuilding bone tissue throughout a person’s lifetime. When there’s an imbalance in this process, osteoporosis can occur, disrupting bone regeneration’s natural progression that keeps them strong. This happens when the body isn’t producing enough new bone material or if the body is absorbing too much of it before more can be created. Both can cause low bone density leading to osteoporosis. Bone regeneration is abundant during a person’s youth but slows down after the early 20s and reaches peak bone mass at about 30.
A person’s risk of osteoporosis depends on various factors but mostly depends on how much bone mass was attained during their youth. Other factors include ethnicity, gender, age, race, family history, and body frame size (smaller frames are at higher risk). Several conditions can impact someone’s chances of developing osteoporosis, including lowered sex hormones, thyroid problems, and other glandular issues. Dietary factors are always a big part of the osteoporosis discussion because low calcium intake, eating disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions and surgeries can also impact the body’s ability to maintain bone strength.
How does Osteoporosis Affect Oral Health?
Human teeth and jaws are made of bone, meaning they can also be affected by all the same conditions that cause osteoporosis. The jaw is the anchor that holds the teeth in place, and if jaw bones lose density, the risk of fracture and permanent tooth loss can affect everything from someone’s ability to wear dentures to the ability to chew and sometimes even talk. The deterioration of bone in teeth and jaws can lead to secondary issues like periodontal disease, which, if left untreated, can cause a very dangerous and painful infection.
Osteoporosis and Gum Disease
The way osteoporosis affects bone density impacts potential fracture caused by reduced bone strength in the jaws and teeth. There is varied research regarding how much periodontal disease is related to osteoporosis, but none of it is entirely conclusive. However, one thing is for sure: the loss of bone density can make the teeth, gum tissue, and jaw much more susceptible to bacteria, which would ultimately increase someone’s risk of periodontal disease. Those who are dealing with bone density loss and chronic gum tissue infection are more likely to suffer from tooth loss.
Patients Already Diagnosed with Osteoporosis
Those who have osteoporosis should immediately tell their dentists of their condition. Making dental professionals aware of any potential medications can significantly alter the course of dental treatment plans and future decisions regarding implants and other procedures that may involve the jaw bone. The AAOMA and ADA suggest that patients taking medication for osteoporosis take a break from their medication for about two months prior to any major dental work such as an extraction, implant, or any treatment that requires touching the jaw bone. These recommendations are especially important for women who have been taking osteoporosis medications for four years or longer. Patients who have been taking medicines for osteoporosis for shorter than four years may be able to continue their use while undergoing necessary various dental procedures. It’s best to speak with both dentists and doctors before any patient undergoes any treatment.
Best Ways to Prevent Osteoporosis
While osteoporosis can be caused by factors that are out of people’s control, there are still measures that can be taken to prevent the condition along with the various oral health factors it can bring about. Lifestyle factors can significantly change someone’s osteoporosis risk profile, but genetic or family hereditary issues will always pose complications, even for those who try their hardest to maintain their health.
The best way for someone to prevent osteoporosis is to keep their body healthy and away from all previously listed risk factors. Eating a well-balanced diet that’s rich in calcium and vitamin D can significantly improve bone function, along with regular exercise and abstaining from smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol.
There are also various osteoporosis prevention and bone-strengthening supplements available over the counter that can help prevent the disease with everything from capsules to chewable candies that are taken once a day.
Osteoporosis is a serious condition that affects both men and women. One in three women over the age of 50 are likely to experience it, while one in five men will be diagnosed in their lifetimes. Currently, more than 200 million people have osteoporosis in the United States. Dental x-rays are just another helpful tool and resource in identifying these cases and catching them before any drastic bone loss occurs.