Losing teeth is something many people probably don’t give much thought to. After all, it doesn’t seem to be that serious of a concern compared to issues that can severely affect your health, right? On the surface, it may seem like tooth loss is simply a cosmetic issue, which is why a lot of people only address it if their missing tooth is visible, such as a front tooth. However, there is much more to missing teeth than an altered smile. In fact, what follows a missing tooth can have negative impacts on your physical, mental, and emotional health.
When tooth loss is overlooked, it can lead to a number of consequences, such as a deteriorating jawbone, gum disease, poor eating habits, difficulty speaking, and self-esteem issues. There are a number of ways tooth loss can occur; some of the most common ones are aging, poor dental hygiene, harmful behavior (e.g., tobacco use, grinding teeth, excessive sugary drinks), and accidents from contact sports or car accidents. Sometimes, people opt to have a tooth pulled because it is causing them pain, but they never have the void filled. This method can be an easy and cheap way of getting rid of the bad tooth, but rather than solve the problem, it only invites more problems.
Whatever the culprit, if you have lost one or more teeth, it should not be ignored. This article will provide details about the ramifications and causes of tooth loss, as well as the three primary options for fixing the problem: dental implants, bridgework, and dentures.
RAMIFICATIONS OF TOOTH LOSS
As with any health issue, losing teeth comes with its share of consequences. Here are some of the most common ones:
The Jawbone Deteriorates
The health of your jawbone depends on your natural teeth. That is, your teeth are embedded in your jawbone—more specifically the alveolar bone—and the bone must get used in order to stay healthy. This is because bone tissue relies on activity to survive. And when there is no activity, such as chewing, the bone tissue is no longer stimulated. So, wherever you have a missing tooth, you will eventually experience bone loss in that area of the jaw because it is not being exercised nor is it serving its purpose. The deterioration of your jawbone can lead to severe jaw pain, headaches and sinus expansion, as well as, a host of problems with your remaining teeth (e.g., drifting, misalignment, decay, etc.). Moreover, over time, the weakening structural support in your jaw can shorten the distance between your nose and chin and cause your lips to sag.
Losing a tooth can also lead to gum disease, which leads to more tooth loss. It’s a vicious cycle. The reason for this is that the area of the gum left vacant by the missing tooth is more susceptible to bacteria than it is when a tooth is anchored in place. Essentially, a missing tooth invites gum disease to set in, which can ultimately lead to many other health problems. For instance, gingivitis is a relatively mild form of gum disease, and it causes irritation, redness, and swelling in the gums and around the teeth. When left untreated, the gums can become more inflamed and progress into periodontal disease. Periodontal disease causes the gums to become detached from the teeth; thus, more tooth loss amid the vicious cycle.
Eating Can Become Challenging
Tooth loss can quickly make eating a difficult task. Part of the reason is that jawbone and gum disease that occur often create a good deal of pain. Also, your remaining teeth will look to fill in the voids of any missing teeth, which means they will keep drifting away from their original location in order to find stability; this process can be extremely painful as well. Moreover, the pain can intensify even more when you eat. This can lead to poor eating habits and, ultimately, malnutrition because foods like hard vegetables and fruits are more difficult to consume. With fewer veggies and fruits, and more soft, sugary foods in your diet, you’re inviting more bacteria and cavities. And the cycle continues.
Another consequence of tooth loss is that certain words become more difficult to pronounce. Effects may be minimal when only one tooth is missing. However, when you start to lose more and more teeth, you will likely notice how it interferes with your phonetics. This is because certain sounds require your tongue to make direct contact with your teeth (e.g. “three,” “the,” “soothe”). Furthermore, pronouncing words with “V” and “F” requires your bottom lip to make contact with your upper teeth; therefore, when one or more upper teeth are missing, such sounds are compromised. These are just a couple of many examples where speech is affected by missing teeth.
Negative Self Image
Finally, each of these ramifications can have a negative impact on self-esteem. The deterioration of the jawbone, gum disease and issues with eating and speaking can each be embarrassing in their own right. And when a person deals with more than one of these problems (or all of them), the effects can be that much greater.
WHAT CAN CAUSE TOOTH LOSS?
Now that you know some of the consequences of tooth loss, let’s take a look at some of the most common causes:
Tooth loss most often occurs in the aging process. Some older people experience a loss of taste as they age, and this leads them to add more seasonings—especially salt—to their meals in order to fight the blandness. Some also opt for spicier foods. Both of these changes in diet can be harmful on the teeth and gums. Others deal with a disorder and/or have to take medications that affect their taste. In general, tooth enamel typically wears down throughout the aging process—leaving the teeth and gums more susceptible to decay. This means that, even if an older person doesn’t have harmful eating habits, tooth loss can happen. And when they do practice poor eating, tooth loss will usually occur more rapidly.
Poor Dental Hygiene
Neglecting your dental hygiene can also make you more susceptible to tooth loss. This includes all the basic practices that each of us is meant to implement in our daily lives, such as brushing (twice a day or after each meal) and flossing (once a day). These habits help to keep plaque at bay, which is the leading cause of gum disease and cavities. When left unaddressed, gum disease and cavities typically lead to tooth loss. In addition to brushing and flossing, it’s important to go to the dentist at least once a year for an exam and cleaning. However, older adults may need to visit the dentist more frequently.
Another common cause of tooth loss is behavior that directly harms the teeth and gums. For instance, smoking and chewing tobacco are known to compromise oral health. Chewing ice, biting your nails and using your teeth as a device for unscrewing bottle caps or tearing off clothing tags can cause chipping, fracturing, and cracking. Grinding your teeth can also cause fracturing, as well as hasten the wear and tear of your teeth; if you’re one of the many people who grind teeth in your sleep, consider wearing a mouthguard at night. Consuming an excess of sugary foods and drinks can also increase your chances of losing teeth. It’s important to be mindful of harmful behaviors so that you can foster better oral health each day.
Accidents from Physical Activity
Some people experience sudden tooth loss from impact. This is especially common with contact sports like hockey, football, soccer, boxing, and martial arts. It can also occur from a fall during extreme sports (e.g., skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, inline skating, etc.). If you participate in any such sports, consider wearing a mouthguard to decrease the impact an accident will have on your teeth. Getting a custom mouthguard is a good option, as they are more likely to stay in your mouth and make it easier to breathe. Plus, having a custom mouthguard molded just for you will be the most comfortable option you can find.
HOW CAN I FIX IT?
If you’ve experienced tooth pain or tooth loss, there are four primary ways you can respond:
- Pulling the bad tooth
- Getting dental implants
- Having bridgework done
- Getting dentures
Let’s take a closer look at these options:
Pulling and Leaving It
Some people opt to simply have their bad tooth pulled and call it a day. This is often the cheapest and most convenient method of responding to a decayed/diseased tooth, but it’s also the least effective. When a tooth is pulled and the void is left unfilled, you run the risk of experiencing the deterioration of your jawbone, gum disease, and difficulties eating and speaking. If you’re thinking of only having your tooth extracted or doing nothing to fill the space of a tooth you’ve lost, consider the consequences. You may find it worth investing in one of the three solutions to the problem (dental implants, bridgework or dentures).
Dental implants are the most effective form of treating tooth loss. The best thing about implants is that they are made of titanium. This means they can seamlessly fuse into your jawbone—stabilizing your bone structure and preventing further deterioration. Following a minor surgical procedure and healing period, crowns are placed on top of the implants. Regarding the look, feel and function, you won’t be able to tell the difference between dental implants and your natural teeth.
Having bridgework done is less expensive than implants, and they can work well to fix immediate problems associated with tooth loss. However, in order for fixed bridges to be stable, they must be placed between two teeth that are scraped down to the root and capped—even if said teeth are healthy before the procedure. This opens the teeth up to potential root canal and decay issues.
Besides pulling your tooth and leaving it, getting dentures is the least expensive option. Like bridgework, dentures can put strain on the surrounding teeth, making the teeth vulnerable to problems. In particular, full dentures rest on the ridges that once bolstered the missing teeth, which can exacerbate the loss of jawbone caused by tooth loss. Even partial dentures pose risks, as they sit on your current teeth and can cause them to loosen.
Dental implants, bridgework, and dentures are all better solutions than doing nothing. It’s best to consult an oral health professional, evaluate your budget, and compare the pros and cons of your options before making a decision.
Missing teeth can affect more than just your smile. Be sure to look over the ramifications and causes of tooth loss so that you can take the proper steps to correct the problem and prevent it from reoccurring in the future. Lastly, do your research and consult your dentist so that you can make the right decision on whether dental implants, bridgework, or dentures are the best way for you to move forward. Tooth loss is not something to ignore—the sooner you act, the better.