If you are missing some teeth, don’t fret! You are not alone. In fact, 15% of adult Australians are missing at least a third of their teeth. Fortunately, there are preventative measures to take to avoid tooth loss and a variety of treatment options to replace any current missing teeth.
What Causes Missing Teeth?
The following are common causes that result in tooth loss:
Periodontal (Gum) Disease
Gum disease is the number one cause of tooth loss in adults over the age of 35. It is commonly caused by prolonged poor oral hygiene which results in plaque buildup. Excessive plaque can harden and create gaps between your gums and teeth in which bacteria can invade and eventually cause a gum infection. If the disease is uncontrolled, the teeth can eventually become loose and fall out.
Poor Oral Hygiene
Lack of regular teeth brushing, and flossing can lead to tooth decay. If tooth decay is severe, a dental practitioner has no choice but to perform a full extraction of the tooth. Tooth decay can result from excessive dietary sugar and consumption of acidic drinks and foods.
The tissue holding your teeth into your gums can become stretched or torn when there is excessed force placed on the teeth. Physical injuries resulting from sports, accidents, and general injuries are common causes of trauma to teeth. Teeth grinding (clenching the teeth) may also cause physical stress on teeth and can result in loosening and damage to connective tissue.
Teeth can also be genetically missing. Up to 6.9% of Australians will be genetically missing one to two teeth.
What are the Risks of Ignoring a Missing Tooth?
The importance of having a full set of teeth goes beyond the aesthetics of a nice smile. Your teeth play an important role in chewing, speaking, and maintaining the general structure and position of your jaw and other teeth. Ignoring a missing tooth can poorly affect the remaining teeth and overall wellbeing.
Ignoring a missing tooth can result in the remaining teeth to weaken and shift within the mouth. This can lead to crooked teeth and misalignment and in severe cases, functional problems such as chewing because the teeth are misaligned.
Bone Loss and Impacted Facial Structure
The jawbone heavily relies on stimulation from teeth to maintain its structure and density. When a tooth is missing, the bone surrounding that tooth can quickly degenerate and weaken. If the jawbone is decreasing in height from bone and gum loss, it can influence the aesthetics of the rest of the face such as drooping lips and hollow cheeks since there’s a lack of bone support.
Overall Decreased Quality of Life
Missing teeth can compromise your entire smile. Besides the aesthetic gaps, missing teeth can also cause facial sagging as the skin is not properly supported, resulting in an older appearance. Missing teeth can also impact one’s ability to chew and speak. Studies have shown correlations between compromised chewing ability and poorer general health. Soft foods often are over-processed and contain a lot of sugar leading to an increased risk of tooth decay.
Dental Treatments for Missing Teeth
There are several solutions available to help with missing teeth.
A dental bridge replaces the gap where the missing teeth were with false teeth by using the adjacent teeth as attachment points. They can only be used if the teeth on either side of the gap are intact and relatively healthy (free of decay).
The healthy teeth on either side of the gap are filed down to “posts”. Afterwards, your dentist will take a mould of your teeth to make the bridge. A temporary bridge (removable) is often provided while your permanent bridge is being made. Once the permanent bridge is ready, your dentist will cement it onto the previously prepared adjacent teeth.
Benefits and Risks of Bridges
Bridges can last for many years if cared for properly and will restore the gap and provide support to the remaining teeth to avoid developing misalignments.
Proper hygiene becomes crucial for bridge maintenance because if either of the two anchor teeth experience decay, the whole bridge may be compromised and need replacement. Bridges can be difficult to clean, thus brushing with fluoride toothpaste and regular flossing is crucial for maintenance. Finally, the area of the jaw under the missing tooth is no longer being stressed and may lead to loss of bone density.
Dentures are specially fitted false teeth made to replace missing teeth. Unlike bridges, they are removable, and sit on top of your gums.
Types of Dentures
A full denture is used when all the teeth of your upper or lower jaw are missing. They involve a specially fitted trey with false teeth that will rest on your gums.
A partial denture is used when there are remaining teeth only some teeth need to be replaced. They are often made from plastic, metal, or a mixture of both. Partial dentures are secured by using small metal clasps that grip onto the remaining natural teeth.
After teeth have been removed and the gums have healed, your dentist will take the appropriate measurements to create your dentures. From extraction, healing, completion of dentures, and an adjustment period, this may take a few months.
Benefits and Risks of Dentures
Dentures will provide the appearance of a full set of teeth, as well as make eating and speaking easier. They are also removable and can be easily cleaned.
It may take a few months to adjust to wearing a new set of dentures. Feelings such as irritation or soreness should go away after 4 to 12 weeks. If you are experiencing persistent soreness and any bleed or swelling of the gums, you may need to see your dentist to get your dentures readjusted.
Dental implants involve a surgical dental operation to permanently replace a missing tooth with a false tooth. Unlike dentures, implants are not removable.
Obtaining a dental implant involves a series of surgeries where a post (a small piece of metal resembling a screw) is inserted into the gums where the missing tooth is. Over time, bone will grow around the implant and hold it in place. Once the implant is stable, an artificial tooth specially made to fit the rest of your mouth is screwed in and cemented on top.
Benefits and Risks of Implants
The process of obtaining a dental implant is long, more invasive, and more costly compared to bridges and dentures. However, after successful operation, dental implants provide a permanent solution to a missing tooth and does not require special maintenance beyond regular brushing and flossing.
How to Avoid Missing Teeth
The number one cause of missing teeth is gum disease followed by tooth decay. Decreasing regular sugar consumption and maintaining a good oral hygiene routine can greatly reduce risks of both. This includes regular tooth brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, and maintaining a dental check up every six months.
Sports injury is another common cause of tooth loss. Wearing a mouth guard and taking precautions to protect your head can decrease risk of tooth loss.