is a crippling disease that affects at least one in four women over
the age of 60. It is a condition in which bones become more porous
and susceptible to fractures. Many bones of your body, including
your jaw bone, are affected. This page explains what osteoporosis
is, how it affects your dental health, and how it might be prevented.
Osteoporosis is a very common and poorly understood
condition of middle and old age. Until recently many of the symptoms,
such as shrinking in size or becoming stooped over, were considered
a natural part of ageing. We now know that these are symptoms of
a disease which literally means 'porous bones'. The bones become
weaker and thinner and are more likely to fracture. As this happens,
the bones of the spine are no longer able to support the weight
of the body. They become compressed. This can lead to 'dowager's
hump', back pain, or even collapse.
Osteoporosis is a serious, disabling condition. Its risk increases
with age and is greater among women than men. Approximately one
out of every four women over 60 years of age is afflicted. Even
more alarming is that the number is growing at a rapid rate. The
'baby boom' generation is moving toward middle age. Many women of
this generation drink less milk than earlier generations, are postponing
childbearing, and are breast-feeding their children. All of these
factors contribute to osteoporosis.
Not only does osteoporosis increase the likelihood of bone fractures
(most commonly in the hip, wrist, and spine), but it also affects
the jaw bone. It is an especially serious problem for those who
have lost some or all of their teeth. Teeth help preserve bone,
and bone slowly disappears (resorbs) in areas where teeth have been
extracted. People who have osteoporosis experience accelerated bone
loss. Recent research indicates that this can speed up periodontal
disease. Periodontal disease attacks gums and bones supporting the
teeth. In advanced stages, it can cause the teeth to become looser
and ultimately fall out.
Bone shrinkage which occurs
from osteoporosis also means that fitting dental appliances, such
as dentures, becomes a nightmare! Dentures must be constantly refitted
or remade to lower and poorer levels. This situation can be terribly
frustrating to both the dentist and the patient. It's like trying
to keep your clothes fitting while you are rapidly losing weight.
Because it is so difficult for the dentist to fabricate
well-fitting and functioning dentures, patients often suffer from
many difficulties with speaking, eating, chewing, and swallowing.
Eating becomes more difficult, so highly refined foods are frequently
substituted for more nutritional foods. Poor nutrition can further
damage the oral tissues and worsen the osteoporosis. Added to this
are emotional consequences. When people can't eat, or have very
poor nutrition, they often become depressed. It may even feel embarrassing
to eat in public. The condition then becomes a downward cycle in
which bone loss contributes to poor nutrition and self-esteem. The
disease gets worse - along with the ability to deal with it.
The good news is that osteoporosis is a preventable
condition. It is important to realise that the disease has a very
slow onset. One does not come down with osteoporosis overnight.
The bone in our body is living tissue which is constantly remodelling
throughout our life. Old bone is continually reabsorbed by the body
and new bone is produced to replace it.
the first half of life, up to the age of about 55, the rate of new
bone formation exceeds the rate of resorption. After 35, the rate
of resorption and new bone growth balances for a while. Then, after
menopause, this balance shifts so that calcium is removed from the
bones faster than it can be replaced. This is a natural part of
the ageing process. However, with osteoporosis the bone loss occurs
at a dangerous rate - it is an exaggeration of the normal process.
Though osteoporosis is difficult to reverse once it is well-established,
preventative measures can be taken to lower the risk. These include:
You should consume a reasonably high amount of calcium each day
by eating foods high in calcium. Special care to increase calcium
intake should be taken during pregnancy and lactation and during
and after menopause.
body also requires adequate amounts of vitamin D (400 IU daily)
which you can get from two pints of milk, an average multivitamin
pill, or 30-60 minutes of sunshine. Too much vitamin D can be harmful.
Excesses of protein, alcohol, and caffeine will also contribute
to bone loss.
High in Calcium
Milk (skimmed milk is fine)
Cheese and other daily products
Dark and green leafy vegetables
Before menopause 1000 mg
During menopause 1200 mg
After menopause 1500 mg
Physical activity helps to stimulate the production of bone tissue.
Walking, dancing, jogging, or bike riding are especially good because
these activities put moderate stress on the spine and long bones
of the body.
After menopause, replacing the lost hormone oestrogen along with
its companion progesterone can reduce bone loss. However, hormone
replacement does have its risks and side effects, and is not necessarily
desirable for all women. This must be moderated by your physician.
If you think that you have osteoporosis, talk to your physician or
dentist. All women should be on the alert to prevent this disabling
and painful disease.