An alveolar bone is a specialized type of bone which is designed to accommodate teeth. In humans, this type of bone is found in the mandible, or lower part of the jaw, along with the maxilla, the upper part of the jaw. Alveolar bone is especially thick and dense when compared to other types of bone so that it can provide adequate support for the teeth, along with attachment points for muscles involved in the jaw and for the gums which provide protection for teeth and bone.
This bone is also known as the “alveolar process.” It includes sockets which are designed to accommodate the roots and lower part of the teeth, with each socket separated from the next by an interdental septum. The gums attach to the alveolar process, and the bone has accommodations to allow blood vessels to enter for the purpose of supplying blood to the teeth. Damage to the alveolar bone can have serious consequences, including the risk of loss of teeth and septicemia if the damage is caused by an infection.
As people age, they often experience alveolar bone loss, which can be seen on dental x-rays. Sometimes the bone becomes thinner, and sometimes bone resorption occurs. In this case, part of the bone is reduced in volume. Resorption is often linked with damage to the jaw or the loss of teeth, which is one reason why extractions are avoided, if possible. Patients with severe damage may require alveolar bone grafting to replace missing bone or to promote bone growth to repair areas of damage.
People who are curious about the alveolar process can ask a dentist to show them this area of the jaw on an x-ray. The bone creates a ridge which surrounds the teeth, making it highly visible. A dentist can also point out any areas where bone loss is occurring, and posit possible causes in addition to recommending steps which can be taken to limit or address bone loss.
In addition to being subject to damage from trauma, alveolar bone is also vulnerable to damage from untreated infections and abscesses of the teeth, damage caused by gum disease which causes undermining of this bone, and damage which results from cancerous growths in the mouth and jaw. Dentists usually regularly assess the health of alveolar bone in their patients to check for signs of changes which may be a cause for concern.