Many people think teeth are held in by the bone and gum tissue. The truth is that there is a soft tissue union between the bone and the tooth called the periodontal ligament (PDL). The PDL is made of various types of collagen and has a neurovascular component. It is extremely narrow yet very complex. It inserts to the bone surrounding the tooth and also inserts in the outer layer of the root surface called the cementum, explains University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. Although called a ligament, it is not like the ligaments that surround an articulating joint. This special ligament plays a very important function in your overall oral health.
Periodontal Ligament: What Is It?
The ligament does not support the outer gum tissues and is only found between the root part of the tooth and the adjacent bone. This complex tissue allows the tooth to function under the load of chewing and absorb excess pressure from clenching and grinding. The ligament is also involved in tooth movement and aids in the eruption of the tooth. Thereby, orthodontic tooth movement is possible because of this ligament. If the tooth was directly connected to the bone, the tooth would function similar to an implant and not be able to move. Because the tooth is held in the socket by the periodontal ligament and not a direct bone-to-tooth interface, it can be extracted most of the time without significantly removing any small areas of the jaw bone.
The PDL helps in the turnover and remodeling of the bone surrounding the tooth. If the tooth has any direct union to the bone, this is called ankylosis. The tooth with this situation is not capable of being moved. This can happen with the breakdown of an area of the PDL.
The ligament also allows the tooth to adapt to forces from tooth grinding (also known as bruxism) or other habits. The ligament will enlarge with a development of mobility or loosening of the tooth. Once the excessive forces on a tooth are reduced, it will heal and allow the mobility to decrease.
Advanced gum disease may lead to the destruction of bone and with it the loss of the periodontal ligament. Thus, in areas where the ligament has been lost, the adjacent bone is no longer attached to the tooth and cannot provide any support. The PDL is prone to periodontal inflammation and cannot be easily regenerated in the area of loss. Even with the placement of a bone graft, if the periodontal ligament is not restored in the area, the bone graft may not work.
It is important to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Brush twice daily, floss and swish with a mouthwash like Colgate Total Mouthwash for Gum Health, which provides advanced gum protection for 45 percent stronger, healthier gums.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.