Adults occasionally find themselves having to make decisions surrounding the loss of a natural tooth or teeth. As a Shelby Township dentist for over two decades, it’s a decision I’ve seen many adults faced with at one or more times as they age.
Losing a tooth can occur for reasons other than poor oral hygiene, which leads to decay and gum disease. Some people who are diligent in their oral health commitment can lose teeth due to an injury or accident. Some adults have to have a tooth removed because it breaks or fractures below the gum line.
Yet, ask any dentist and you’ll learn that the number one cause for adult tooth loss in any dental office is periodontal (gum) disease.
While maintaining a healthy smile is important at all ages, keeping our teeth does become more challenging with age. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), 7 percent of American have lost at least one permanent tooth due to decay by age 18. (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db197.htm)
Take note of that: “due to decay,” which is what we strive to help our patients avoid. But with age, the challenge increases. On average, adults in the U.S. have experienced a loss of 12 teeth by the age of 50. Sadly, 26 percent of adults ages 65 – 74 have lost all of their natural teeth.
Losing a tooth requires replacing a tooth, for many reasons. Although a missing tooth (or teeth) can detract from a smile’s appearance, it tends to send a poor impression to others. A missing tooth that is visible in a smile can have negative connotations about one’s education, hygiene, career level, and more.
In one study shared by the National Institutes of Health (published in their U.S. National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18556899) 200 college students were polled on “social perceptions of individuals missing upper front teeth.”
In the study, volunteer students rated five photos of smiling individuals, each depicting tooth presence or absence. The photos included smiling individuals who obviously had all their teeth as well as those who were missing teeth. The students were asked to rank each individual on attractiveness, education, satisfaction with life, potential of dating, active social life, health, intelligence, trustworthiness, friendship, and how likely they would be to have as a neighbor.
The findings revealed that a person who was obviously missing teeth was more negatively perceived on all social traits than a person with a full smile. Results were strongest in areas where the students considered having personal connections, such as their likelihood of dating or having as a neighbor.
And, these perceptions applied to both men and women when it came to social traits. In this study, missing teeth was deemed as a significant barrier to achieving personal and social success.
In some of my past blogs, you’ve likely read about the importance of each tooth’s position in relation to its role in supporting adjacent teeth. And, not only does each tooth help other teeth maintain their positions, the tooth above or below is also kept to a proper height by the one it meets
Proper “bite” position (how upper teeth meet lower teeth) also has a great deal to do with the function of the TMJ (temporo-mandibular joints). These “jaw joints” serve as hinges that connect the lower jaw to the skull. If you think about it, these joints are in almost constant motion, moving each time you eat and speak. They even move slightly when we swallow.
When a tooth is missing, the proper alignment of the bite is at risk. Neighboring teeth begin to tilt or shift. As the fit of upper and lower teeth becomes less harmonious, it can strain the jaw joints that are designed to move fluidly in their sockets. One of the reasons why people grind their teeth in their sleep is their subconscious’ pursuit of finding a position of rest for the jaw joints.
The presence of a tooth is also important below the gum line. When a natural tooth root is missing, the jaw bone begins to shrink in a process known as resorption. People are often surprised at the extent of bone loss they’ve experienced until the once-snug fit of a denture becomes less dependable.
As resorption progresses, dentures that once fit securely will eventually loosen. The denture may “slip” while eating certain foods or even move when speaking. As bone mass declines, the ridge that once securely supported the denture begins to flatten. With less of a foundation to hold it, a denture wearer is left with a “wobbly” fit.
The most common complaint of long-time denture wearers is the reduced ability to bite and chew comfortably. They are often surprised to learn that the pressure of wearing a denture actually contributes to the rate of bone loss. And, eating seems more challenging for a good reason. The biting strength of natural teeth is 250 lbs. The average denture wearer bites with 5 – 6 lbs.
To ensure your smile looks great and your oral health is protected, we advise most patients to consider replacing teeth with Dental Implants. Not only is an implant is the closest thing to natural teeth, they are supported by the jaw bone, just as natural tooth roots once were. Thus, they provide dependable support for eating a healthy, nutritious diet and laughing with confidence.
Another bonus of dental implants is their ability to help maintain bone mass. Because they are held by the jaw bone, dental implants recreate stimulation that was once provided by natural tooth roots. By restoring this stimulation, dental implants help the bone retain its mass while preventing risks to surrounding teeth due to bone loss.
Dental implants are designed to last a lifetime. While they may seem as a more-expensive option to replace teeth at first, over time the investment is one of the wisest choices in modern dentistry.
Of course, our goal is to help you avoid losing natural teeth so the decisions of replacement (and the associated costs) don’t occur in the first place! Your 6-month check-ups and cleanings will give you a periodic “clean slate” of sorts so you can maintain good oral health between visits. And, our dental hygienists can even discuss a customized program to make your at-home oral care more effective.
Regardless of your smile’s needs, our office provides a comprehensive care environment where patient comfort is always a priority. If you have experienced tooth loss or are facing decisions about replacing teeth, begin with a no-charge private session by calling 586-739-2155 or tap here to begin.
During this time, we’ll discuss your smile and preferences in tooth replacement. If payment plans are desired, you can also meet with our Financial Coordinator or Insurance Coordinator while you’re here.