The health of your teeth offers key insight into your risk for developing osteoporosis.
Over 50 million Americans unknowingly have low bone density.
Older adults with osteoporosis are more than three times more likely to experience tooth loss.
Dental x-rays are proving to be a surprisingly effective tool for initial detection of low bone density.
Can you imagine heading to the dentist for your annual checkup and leaving with a referral to talk to your physician about osteoporosis? That’s exactly what’s happening in thousands of dentist offices across the country.
As osteoporosis progresses, more and more dentists are reporting significant changes in oral health that are consistent with low bone density. That’s because the health of your teeth also happens to be a strong indicator of the health of your bones, especially in those who are 50 years of age and over.
In fact, recent research demonstrates a clear connection between oral health and osteoporosis(1) – this discovery introduces a new and unexpected resource in the effort to improve early detection and treatment of osteoporosis – your dentist!
Most of us know that osteoporosis is a bone disease, and specifically a condition that causes the bones to lose density and become weak and brittle over time(2). However, what many don’t realize is that osteoporosis is considered a silent disease; meaning it often progresses, undetected and without symptoms, until a bone break or fracture occurs.
While both men and women are affected by osteoporosis, the condition is much more prevalent in older women. Currently, it’s estimated that more than one-third of women between the ages of 60 and 70 and two-thirds of women over 80 have some form of osteoporosis(3).
Osteoporosis: Progressive Low Bone Density
Over the course of your life, your bones are in a constant state of renewal and regeneration. In other words, as your body breaks down old bone, it’s already forming new bone. When you are young, your body makes new bone much faster than it breaks down old bone, resulting in increased bone density and mass.
Your body reaches peak bone mass right around age 30. After age 30, the process of making new bone begins to gradually slow down over time until eventually you start to lose bone mass faster than you can create it.
The Oral Health – Osteoporosis Connection
So, what’s the connection between the health of your teeth and osteoporosis? Well, it’s not necessarily your teeth themselves that are directly affected by osteoporosis, it’s actually the portion of your jawbone that supports your teeth that’s impacted by bone loss resulting from osteoporosis.
Over time, and as the specific portion of your jawbone, known as the alveolar process, loses bone density, you can become more susceptible to a number of oral health issues(4), including:
Increased tooth mobility (loose teeth)
Increased tooth loss
Loose or poorly fitting dentures
Research published in the Journal of Mid-Health examining the relationship between dental health and osteoporosis found that postmenopausal women with osteoporosis experienced significantly higher rates of tooth loss than those without osteoporosis(5). These findings were further supported by the National Institutes of Health, who found the effect of osteoporosis on the alveolar process to be so pronounced that women with osteoporosis are more than three times as likely to experience tooth loss than women without the condition(6).
Adding to this concern, losing bone density increases the risk for periodontal diseases, and specifically periodontitis. Periodontitis, more commonly known as gum disease, damages the soft tissue in your mouth. Left untreated, periodontitis can result in bacteria and the body’s own immune system attacking and destroying the bone structure that supports your teeth(7).
So, not only does osteoporosis contribute to declining oral health, it also creates a situation that puts you at risk for secondary infection that can cause further damage to your teeth and your overall oral health.
Your Dentist’s Emerging Role in Detecting Osteoporosis
There’s two ways to look at every situation; and, while the fact that osteoporosis affects your oral health and the health of your teeth is not news we like to hear, the good news is that we are realizing that your dentist is becoming a very important part in the early detection and treatment of osteoporosis.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease (NIAMS) has found that annual dental x-rays are proving to be a highly effective screening tool for detecting low bone density(8); and since people tend to see their dentist more than their doctor, dentists have emerged as a key healthcare provider in helping to detect and identify those who have, or who are at risk of, low bone density and osteoporosis.
Your teeth play an important role in so many aspects of your overall health, including providing an early indication of low bone density. Make sure you take the time to discuss your bone health, bone density, and risk of osteoporosis with your dentist during your next dental exam.
1 – https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/oral-health/oral-health-and-bone-disease.
2 – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351968.
3 – https://www.archivesofmedicine.com/medicine/effect-of-osteoporosis-on-oral-health.php?aid=8455.
4 – https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/oral-health/oral-health-and-bone-disease.
5 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5753495/.
6 – https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/oral-health/oral-health-and-bone-disease.
7 – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/periodontitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354473.
8 – https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/oral-health/oral-health-and-bone-disease.
The information shared above is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical or nutrition therapy advice; it does not diagnose, treat or cure any disease, condition; it is not to be used as a replacement or substitute for medical advice provided by physicians and trained medical professionals. If you are under the care of a healthcare professional or are currently using prescription medications, you should discuss any dietary and lifestyle changes or potential dietary supplements use with your doctor. You should not discontinue any prescription medications without first consulting your doctor.
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