How missing teeth can hurt your oral health
Discover how missing teeth can hurt your oral health and your options for fixing missing teeth.
In the United States, the average person, aged 20 to 64 has an average of 24.92 teeth remaining. That means that the average adult is missing around seven teeth.¹
Missing teeth open your mouth to a host of potential health issues, both in the mouth and in the body as a whole. However, this does not have to be the case as missing teeth are, in many cases, preventable and typically able to be fixed.
Why do adults lose their teeth?
There are several common reasons why you might lose a tooth as an adult.
Accidents and trauma: Painful events, such as taking an elbow to the teeth during a family football game, are one common way that people lose teeth. This is usually a one-time event that accompanies a trip to the dentist right away. Although painful, teeth that get knocked out are typically of less concern than those lost for other reasons.
Tooth decay: Poor dental hygiene, if left untreated and uncleaned can cause tooth loss. This can be caused by a number of factors including, tobacco use, teeth grinding (bruxism), nutritional deficiencies, and poor dental hygiene.
Drug use: Drugs, such as methamphetamine, can cause many dental issues, with tooth loss being among the most common.
Impacts of missing teeth
A missing tooth can be both uncomfortable and unsightly. But missing teeth can also cause health problems that you may not have thought of before².
Trouble with chewing
Depending on where your missing tooth is you might have trouble and even pain when chewing. For example, missing molars or teeth in the back of your mouth will typically make it difficult to chew and grind hard food such as nuts or crackers. While missing an incisor or front tooth will typically make biting off bits of food very difficult.
You may not notice it, but your teeth play a key role in the formation of sounds and words as you are speaking. The sudden loss of a tooth or many teeth can make it difficult to speak. Sometimes a missing tooth can even make a whistling noise when you attempt specific sounds.
Chronic headaches, such as migraines can be caused by a host of dental issues. One of these issues is tooth loss.³ When you lose a tooth it can alter your bite pattern causing a chain reaction that ends with a headache.
Missing teeth could also increase your risk of an oral infection, which could spread to the rest of your body and cause more serious issues. When you lose a tooth you also are leaving an exposed area of gum tissue open. This tissue could become infected through simple actions like chewing food.
Options to fix missing teeth
There are several common solutions to fixing a missing tooth. Some of these are more invasive and expensive than others. Here are a few typical options to help address the problem and stave off future oral health issues:
A denture is a sort of dental apparatus that goes in your mouth, with fittings for the spaces where missing teeth used to be. Dentures can help to protect gums where missing teeth used to be. They also can help protect adjacent teeth from excess damage from chewing.
Dentures are typically made of metal or acrylic and can be partial for cases where you still have some natural teeth, or complete in cases where all your teeth are missing.
While dentures may be a good solution, it is also important to recognize that bone loss can still be an issue because you are not putting pressure on the bone to stimulate growth. If you do have dentures make sure that you still are getting regular X-rays to monitor bone loss.
A bridge is a “filler” tooth that’s mounted to teeth on either side of where the lost tooth was, and bonds to your mouth. Bridges can help to fill the gap and protect your exposed gum line from chewing and damages.
A dental bridge may have some negative aspects as well. One is that you will need to be diligent when cleaning under the bridge to ensure that food and bacteria are not trapped underneath. Another common issue with bridges is that your dentist will need to mount it on existing teeth, potentially damaging the adjacent teeth as well⁴.
A dental implant is a more permanent solution than dentures or bridges and may feel more natural and like a real tooth. A titanium support is fused to the jaw, then a false tooth is fitted onto the support. Your existing natural teeth may not be affected by a dental implant and are typically the best long-term solution to a missing tooth.
How to prevent missing teeth
Although there are solutions for fixing a missing tooth, the best solution is prevention.
Maintaining an effective oral health regiment is your first defense in keeping all your teeth healthy and happy:
Brush your teeth
Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste. Brushing your teeth helps remove plaque and bacteria that typically can cause tooth decay. This helps keep teeth strong and healthy for as long as possible.
Make sure your toothbrush bristles are in good condition. When they start to show wear, it’s time for a new toothbrush (about every three months).
Floss at least once a day
Daily flossing helps ensure that no pockets of food can stay in between your teeth. Similarly, to brushing your teeth, daily flossing helps to prevent decay, which is a major contributor to tooth loss in adults.
A healthy diet that avoids excess sugary foods and drinks can dramatically reduce tooth loss. Eating a diet that cuts out soda, candy, and other sugary foods helps prevent tooth decay and plaque buildup. This can help keep your teeth healthy and strong.
Avoid tobacco use
Tobacco products cause a host of problems for your teeth. Both chewing tobacco and tobacco smoke typically cause gum disease and receding gumlines which in turn can cause teeth to decay and fall out.
See a dentist regularly
You may not think that you need to see a dentist twice a year if your teeth have been healthy. This is not the case. Having a professional clean the plaque off of your teeth is a key to help ensure good tooth health. Additionally, when you see your dentist regularly, they can identify and correct any issues regarding tooth decay before it is too late.
What to do if you are missing a tooth
If you find yourself in a position where you are missing a tooth, either from an accident or from tooth decay, you need to see a dentist immediately. If your tooth has been knocked out, they may even be able to put it back without an implant or bridge.
If you have lost a tooth due to poor oral health, it is also important that you see a dentist as soon as possible. Some may find this embarrassing; however, it is the dentist’s job to help you to get a healthy smile back. The issues that you are experiencing will likely get worse until you see a dentist.
Addressing dental problems early is key to help prevent oral health issues and even more serious conditions. Dental insurance can help you pay for the preventive care you need to avoid losing your teeth, and to pay for the treatment you need should you lose a tooth in the future.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.
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