1. Introduction on Tooth Loss
When you lose a tooth, especially if it is one that is not visible, you may be tempted to ignore it or put off replacing it until a later date. However, tooth loss can pose serious health concerns for adults and complications with everyday activities such as talking and eating.
2. What Can Cause Missing Teeth?
The causes of missing teeth vary according to different circumstances, but the general reasons for missing teeth include trauma, gum disease, and tooth decay. Athletes have the highest risk of losing a tooth or teeth during sports events, making up between 13-39% of the more than 5 million teeth that are avulsed each year.
Severe periodontitis, or gum disease, causes the inner layers of your gums and bones to recede from your teeth. Eventually, you are left without enough layers of gums and bone to keep your teeth in place, and they can become loose. In some cases, these areas can also become prone to infection.
Tooth decay can also occur as a result of poor dental hygiene. The multiple cavities and cracks that can occur as a result of decay can compromise the integrity of your tooth, leading it to degenerate severely until it either falls out or needs to be extracted.
3. Consequences of a Missing Tooth
There are several potential consequences of a missing tooth. Depending on how you lost your tooth, whether it was due to injury or decay and gum disease, you may be more prone to some consequences than others.
- Teeth Shifting over Time
Over time, your teeth will shift to fill in the gap left by your missing tooth. If you spent a lot of money on corrective braces to fix your smile as a teenager, you would likely find this an unpleasant aesthetic side effect.
This shift can cause issues with eating and talking, and the shift in pressure against your teeth as they move can also cause them to break or crack.
- Jawbone Loss
The shape of your jaw is actually maintained by your teeth as they stimulate the bone. When a tooth or multiple teeth are lost, the bone will recede in your jaw, leading to unpleasant changes in the shape of your mouth.
- Chewing Issues
The new spaces between teeth can cause food build-up and be difficult to maintain. These spaces also allow bacteria to build-up, which can cause or exacerbate gum disease and tooth decay.
- Bite Problem
Bite problems occur when the upper and lower levels of the teeth come together improperly. This can cause wearing down of the enamel on existing teeth and jaw problems such as TMJ. If you already have TMJ, tooth loss can worsen your symptoms.
- Aesthetics of Your Face
Not only will tooth loss affect the mechanical functions of your mouth, but over time, it will impact the aesthetics of your face. People who have lost teeth will eventually see a more pronounced and protruding chin and a decrease in the width of their mouth. The loss of the aesthetics of your face can lead to a lowered quality of life.
- Speaking Issues
Tooth loss and the shifting of teeth can affect the way you speak, especially when pronouncing phonetic sounds. When the teeth and lips don’t meet properly, sounds such as “m,” “th” and “s” sounds cannot be completely formed.
4. Treatments Available for Missing Teeth
There are a variety of treatments available for missing teeth. These include:
- Dental implants
Dentures are a popular choice, but over time, they contribute to bone loss because they don’t stimulate bone growth well. They need to be replaced every 7-10 years.
Removable bridges are also like dentures in that they don’t stimulate bone growth and will need to be replaced but are an acceptable aesthetic replacement.
Dental implants stimulate bone growth and can be worn and treated like natural teeth. They can last a lifetime if taken care of properly.
If you have lost teeth and are concerned about the impact on your health, make an appointment with your local dental clinic to see what treatments are available to you.
Dr Kev Patel is the Clinical Director and Principal dentist at Bond Dental Clinic in Baker Street, London. He is a general and cosmetic dentist qualified from Kings College London Dental Institute in 2012. He is also a member of the Royal College of Surgeons England.