Ridge preservation is a procedure which dramatically reduces the shrinkage of your jawbone that normally occurs after you have had a tooth (or several teeth) extracted. This shrinkage can have a profound effect on how bridgework looks in replacing your missing tooth, how dentures fit onto the ridge left after you have had teeth extracted or how (if at all) dental implants can be placed into your residual ridge.
Ridge preservation is technically a type of bone grafting. However, unlike most instances of bone grafting where bulk is being added to a deficient site, ridge preservation merely allows you to maintain the pre-extraction contours of the jaw bone that was holding your tooth in place originally. Your jawbone is like a muscle, when subject to disuse, it atrophies (shrinks). The portion of your jawbone, either upper or lower, where the roots of your teeth are located is technically known as the alveolus. Its function is to anchor the roots of your teeth. When the roots of one or more of your teeth are removed from your upper or lower alveolus, it will shrink. The amount of shrinkage varies widely between individuals and individual situations, but you will always experience some atrophy on having a tooth (or several teeth) extracted.
This shrinkage has negative functional and esthetic consequences. Functionally, significant shrinkage of your ridge will impair your ability to wear dentures (full as well as partial) and reduce or eliminate your treatment options with regard to dental implants unless extensive bone grafting procedures are undertaken first that go well beyond ridge preservation. The time, money and effort that go into these more extensive grafting measures are considerably greater than the ridge preservation would have been had you had it done in the first place. Remember, the smaller your ridge is after teeth have been extracted the less stable will be any kind of denture you wear on it. Esthetically, inserting a fixed bridge to replace a tooth where appreciable atrophy has occurred after you had a tooth removed will leave your replacement tooth (technically known as a pontic) looking as though it was sitting in a hollow. The same would be true if an implant were used to replace your missing tooth without ridge preservation. An implant smaller than the size of your original tooth's root would need to be used with a lesser diameter that would require its crown to have an unnaturally narrow base creating a decidedly artificial appearance.
When ridge preservation is not performed, shrinkage occurs (in width from red arrows to black).
The concept of ridge preservation is quite simple and is easily tolerated if you need to have a tooth extracted. In this process, after Dr. McArdle has completed your extraction, he fills the socket left behind with a material that will be absorbed within the remaining bone to strengthen it. The gum is then sutured shut to retain the material, which is composed of either a naturally calcified or synthetic glass-like substance. This material serves as a scaffold that prevents the socket walls from collapsing in on what otherwise would be an empty space as the material solidifies. Since the ridge preservation material actually becomes part of your alveolus as it sets over several months, there is no need to remove it later. Ridge preservation is highly effective at maintaining the original volume of your alveolar bone and is completely safe. Most dental benefit plans nevertheless do not reimburse you for this procedure, deeming it either purely cosmetic or still experimental, neither of which is true as this is simply a means of denying claims.
Ridge preservation material maintains the original contours present before extraction.