We know that working out helps our muscles grow stronger, but did you know chewing also keeps your jawbone strong? Chewing isn’t something we may think of as exercise, but the repetitive motion of biting on food helps keep the bone that makes up your lower jaw—the mandible—strong enough to keep up its work.
How Your Mandible Is Strengthened
Jawbone reconstruction is the process of the jaw reforming bone tissue in response to pressures associated with movement. Your bones are constantly reshaping themselves using cells called osteoclasts. A study by a team of Japanese scientists showed that in mice, not only were jaw muscles strengthened by a diet of harder foods, their bones became stronger as well. This helped show causation in mastication—chewing—harder foods & the development of a strong mandible.
While it isn’t a good idea to chew foods that are too tough, adding healthy, crunchy food to your diet is a great way to keep your jaw in good shape. Vegetables & nuts are simple, harder snacks & have a lot of other great benefits too.
Keeping your mandible strong is important for the overall health of your mouth. If you are missing teeth, those areas do not receive the regular force needed to keep bone density at proper levels & the bone can shrink. This leads to weak spots in the jaw that are more prone to disease & may cause long-term issues with your bite. In severe cases, the possibility for the mandible fracturing or breaking increases.
In addition to the loss of bone mass & density, areas where teeth are missing can lead to a shift in the position of remaining teeth. This movement can displace the pressure that is put on the jaw, opening up the possibility of more weak spots in addition to a misaligned bite.
Several factors lead to tooth loss, including tooth decay & trauma such as playing a high-impact sport such as hockey. Regular hygiene checkups and wearing a properly fitted mouthguard are great preventative measures for these risks. However, some people are simply born without all of their teeth, called hypodontia. For these individuals, coming up with a plan early with your dentist is the best first step in maintaining a healthy jaw.
The Power of Implants
In areas where teeth are missing, getting implants can be the best solution to maintaining bone strength. This is due to implants being rooted in the mandible, so the pressure put on the artificial crowns—the part of the implant that resembles a tooth—is directed down to the jaw. This allows for stimulation of the mandible & the resulting reconstruction.
Implants are not always required for areas with missing or severely damaged teeth. Crowns & bridges are also options. If you have a damaged tooth, your dentist will do their best to save the natural tooth if they feel an extraction can be avoided. Talk to your dentist about which option is best for you & whether you are at risk of a weakening mandible.