Perhaps the most important question about tooth extraction is what happens next. Replacing the missing tooth is in your best interests, and this is ideally achieved with a dental implant, as the implant and its prosthetic tooth best mimic the form and function of a natural tooth. This is different to dentures or a dental bridge, which sit atop the gums and do not replicate the tooth's root. When a tooth is to be extracted, your dentist might strongly recommend a small additional procedure to be performed at the same time. Socket preservation helps to prepare your jaw to receive a dental implant.
A Chain Reaction
The decision to replace a missing tooth is ultimately your choice, but leaving the dental socket empty isn't the best course of action. A missing tooth sets off a chain reaction in your mouth. Although it's slow to develop, this chain reaction will ultimately compromise your dental health.
Deterioration and Loss of Alignment
The different teeth in your mouth have different functions. Canines and incisors grip and tear food, whereas premolars and molars handle the actual chewing. The required effort is evenly shared between your applicable teeth. For example, if a molar is extracted, other molars will experience overuse, experiencing more wear and tear, which can lead to premature deterioration. Additionally, your overall bite may lose alignment.
Even though the consequences may not become evident until months (or years) after extraction, a lost tooth should be replaced, as these consequences require more dental work than would be involved in fitting a dental implant. This is why a dentist might suggest socket preservation when extracting a tooth.
It's easy to think of your bones as solid and unchanging, but bone is reactive living tissue. This reaction is evident after a tooth is lost. Without the stimulation directed into the bone by the bite pressure experienced by a tooth, your alveolar ridge (the part of your jaw that holds your dental sockets) will lose some of its solidity. It no longer has to support a tooth, and so some loss of density is inevitable. This loss of density means that the jaw cannot adequately support a dental implant, and socket preservation helps you to bypass this potential issue.
After extracting the tooth, your dentist fills the empty socket with bone material. This material can be collected from elsewhere in your mouth (involving a small incision), or it can come from a donor. Synthetic bone material is also common. This prevents collapse of the socket and minimizes bone loss from your alveolar ridge.
Once the bone material has been applied, it will integrate with the socket during the healing process. Your gingival tissues will be pulled over the empty socket and sutured in place to facilitate healing. When gingival tissue is inadequate or compromised, a surgical membrane (a thin collagen sponge) might be applied. Your socket will heal, while preserving the density of the underlying alveolar ridge.
Tooth extraction should involve having a plan in place for its replacement. When this plan involves a dental implant, socket preservation can make the overall process far more straightforward—both for the patient and their dentist.