Alveolar Process: Anatomy, Features and Importance

The alveolar process is the dental term for the bone that surrounds your teeth. It's also sometimes called the alveolar bone. It's related to other structures, and the bone and your teeth (real or implanted) work together to keep each other healthy.

Alveolar Process: Where It's Located

The alveolar process sits on the bone below the apex (or end) of the root of the tooth, called the basal bone, explains the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. The basal bone is made of the same bone-producing cells in your body and has a greater density than the alveolar bone, which helps it protect vital structures in your mouth, like nerves, arteries and the sinus.

The Anatomy of the Alveolar Process

The process originally develops with the developing tooth. It surrounds the erupted teeth in your mouth and is covered by your gingiva, also known as your gums. Under your gums is the outer wall of the process, called the cortical plates. The inner side of the bone, next to your tooth, is called the alveolar bone proper.

The alveolar bone proper is not directly attached to the tooth, however. Instead, the bone and tooth are connected by a structure called the periodontal ligament, which is made up of fibers, blood vessels, and nerves, says the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.

Alveolar Process & Tooth Health

The alveolar process is important for your teeth to remain in your head and fully functional. Advanced periodontitis can destroy the bone support under a tooth, which means you may lose the tooth.

Sometimes, you may have a tooth extracted on purpose because of a dental issue. In either instance, the site — now called the alveolar socket — can change in size and shape if the tooth is missing. That's because the alveolar bone exists to house a tooth. Without one, the area of bone will shrink, and in time you'll be left with only the basal bone.

Loss of the alveolar bone can change the shape and appearance of your mouth. It's also difficult to replace your teeth with dentures or implants without the alveolar bone. Bone grafts are sometimes required to improve the area for implants or for cosmetic reasons.

To prevent these issues, it's important to see your dentist for dental implants shortly after a tooth is lost or extracted. A removable dental appliance may still allow for bone loss. A permanent dental implant, on the other hand, helps retain the bone in the area over a longer period of time.

The key to retaining your teeth and the surrounding bone is good oral hygiene and regular checkups by a dentist and dental hygienist. Keep up great oral health habits, like flossing and brushing twice daily with a toothbrush, like the Colgate 360° Total Advanced Floss-Tip Bristlestoothbrush. This toothbrush cleans hard-to-reach areas of the mouth, helps remove odor-causing bacteria and provides a 4x deeper reach between teeth and along the gumline.

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What Are The Different Parts Of A Tooth?

Each tooth has several distinct parts; here is an overview of each part:

  • Enamel – this is the outer and hardest part of the tooth that has the most mineralized tissue in the body. It can be damaged by decay if teeth are not cared for properly.

  • Dentin – this is the layer of the tooth under the enamel. If decay makes it through the enamel, it next attacks the dentin — where millions of tiny tubes lead directly to the dental pulp.

  • Pulp – this is the soft tissue found in the center of all teeth, where the nerve tissue and blood vessels are located. If tooth decay reaches the pulp, you usually feel pain and may require a root canal procedure.