How Missing Teeth Can Negatively Affect Your Oral Health
Once all 32 of your adult teeth come in, most people expect that they’ll stick with you for life, but that isn’t always the case.
Due to gum disease, tooth decay, or injury, many adults aged 45 to 65 have lost at least one tooth.
Besides just aesthetic reasons and feeling confident about your smile, it’s extremely important to visit your dentist to discuss your options for replacing any missing teeth. Because if left untreated, your missing teeth can lead to some serious consequences.
The Vital Role Teeth Play
Your teeth are incredibly important. They’re there to help you to chew your food, speak clearly and eloquently, and greet people with a warm smile.
But it’s important to remember that your teeth also play a critical role in the structure of your mouth and having a gap after losing a tooth can lead to some serious oral health concerns if not replaced.
When one or more of your teeth are missing, it can cause your bite pressure to shift onto your other teeth, causing them to move over to the space where the missing tooth once was.
Having missing teeth can also lead to plaque build-up in areas of the mouth that are difficult to clean. This can then result in gum infections and the loss of even more teeth.
What Causes Oral Health Problems Leading to Tooth Loss?
So why exactly do we lose teeth? There are actually a variety of factors that contribute to tooth loss in adults. Here are some examples.
Your Tooth Has Died
A tooth is considered to be dead when it is no longer receiving a fresh supply of blood. Trauma or injury to your tooth is one of the most common reasons why teeth die. However, poor dental hygiene and untreated cavities can also cause a tooth to die.
Untreated cavities can slowly eat away at your tooth enamel, causing the pulp to become infected. This then cuts off the blood supply to the pulp, causing it to die.
Depending on the severity and how quickly it’s treated, an extraction may be required.
Your Gums are Inflamed
Your gums act as protective shields for your tooth roots and stimulate your jawbone to grow around your teeth. So when bacteria builds up and causes your gums to become inflamed, your gums will pull back and the bone around the tooth shrinks.
This causes your teeth to become loose, opening the door for bacteria to grow, resulting in tooth decay and tooth loss.
You Had an Accident
If you experience a hard hit to the mouth – common in sports – often it can result in trauma to your teeth, gums and jawbones, leading to tooth loss, or requiring an extraction.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, tooth loss is completely out of your control.
Some people are simply born with a reduced number of teeth or none at all due to an illness called congenital anodontia.
Or, sometimes your tooth enamel just isn’t strong enough and creates cone or peg-shaped teeth. This is known as ectodermal dysplasia.
When Should You Consult a Dentist?
If you are unsure of whether you need to see a dentist about a damaged or lost tooth, keep an eye out for any of the following symptoms and book an appointment right away.
- When you have one or more teeth that are missing or need to be pulled
- It becomes difficult to eat
- You have lost one or more teeth and have since been experiencing headaches and migraines
- You face shape has changed since losing one or more teeth
Consequences of Missing Teeth
Missing teeth don’t just impact the way that you look. They can pose serious oral health risks and take a huge toll on your life.
Here are a few ways that missing teeth can impact your life.
Loss of Self-Confidence
Missing teeth can affect your self-confidence, not just because of how your smile looks, but also because it can be difficult to chew your food, kiss romantic partners, and even speak correctly.
Therefore, replacing lost teeth will do wonders for your self-confidence and self-esteem.
When you lose a tooth, the gap that’s left behind can become a breeding ground for plaque and bacteria.
The bacteria can then spread below your gum-line and invade your jawbone, resulting in inflammation that destroys the tissues in your mouth. This then leads to tooth loss and gum recession.
Similar to gum disease, tooth decay is also caused by plaque buildup. The bacteria in plaque attacks your tooth enamel, causing your tooth to decay and cavities to form.
After tooth loss, you become a higher risk for plaque buildup and tooth decay because your teeth that become crooked due to shifting are difficult to clean.
Every single tooth in your mouth plays an important role in helping to prevent your jawbone from eroding. So, when teeth are missing, your jawbone can quickly deteriorate and shrink, resulting in bone loss.
Bite-Related Problems and Teeth Shifting
When you lose teeth, the structure of your mouth changes, causing your bite to become misaligned.
When this happens, it can lead to serious problems including further tooth damage and having trouble eating and speaking.
This also puts you at risk for developing temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome and chronic headaches.
Natural wear and tear on your teeth is normal, but when teeth are missing, it can lead to even further breakdown, causing numerous problems.
As your teeth start to shift as a result of the gap from a missing tooth, they can rub together due to misalignment, leading to wear and enamel loss.
Teeth Replacement Options
With the right dentist, replacement teeth should last you many years, so it’s important to speak with your dentist about your options so you can choose the best treatment.
Here are some of the most common teeth replacement options.
Dental implants have become one of the most popular options for replacing damaged or missing teeth.
Implants provide a stable foundation for removable or permanent artificial teeth and can be used instead of bridges or dentures.
Some of the biggest benefits of dental implants are the improvement of bite function, and that they look and feel just like your own teeth. How it works is a small titanium post is fixed into the bone socket of the missing teeth. The jawbone then grows back around the implant, holding it securely in place. Once the implant and bone have bonded, an abutment will be fitted to hold the new tooth firmly, and a crown will be attached to the abutment.
While this is typically the preferred option for replacing a single tooth, dental implants can also be used to replace multiple teeth.
A dental bridge involves fusing artificial teeth to a frame and is a common option for replacing multiple missing teeth.
When two or more teeth are missing, bridges can also be used on dental implants.
The bridge is supported by either implants or teeth surrounding the gap, and the middle section is what replaces the missing tooth.
If the bridge must be anchored to neighboring teeth instead of the implants, these teeth will have to be ground down to reduce their size.
Partials and Dentures
Partial dentures are used to replace a small number of teeth and come in the form of replacement teeth that are attached to a plastic base supported by the gums and remaining teeth. These can be taken out for cleaning.
A benefit of partial dentures is that they are more secure and comfortable than standard full dentures. They are also typically less costly than implants or bridges.
Full dentures, also known as conventional dentures, consist of a complete set of artificial upper and lower teeth that are held in place by suction.
Full dentures are often the best option for people whose gums and jaw are weak or unhealthy. However, they are not ideal for everyone.
If not properly secured, dentures can fall out of place while you are eating or speaking, and can lead to infection and decay in other teeth.
Another downside is that full and partial dentures will not help to prevent bone loss due to missing teeth. Even with dentures, the bones in your jaw will continue to weaken and change shape.
Because of this, you may need to have your dentures adjusted or replaced from time to time. And for this reason, dentures can end up costing you more than dental implants in the long run.
Preventative Measures to Avoid Tooth Loss
The best way to prevent tooth loss is by practicing good oral health habits, including brushing and flossing your teeth regularly and seeing a dentist at least once every six months.
Even if you haven’t prioritized oral hygiene in the past, it’s never too late to start fresh to prevent further damage to your teeth.
And if you do lose a tooth, it’s important to know that you have options, and should see your dentist right away to discuss possible treatment options to avoid further damage.