When you think about losing a tooth, you may think back to wiggling a baby tooth in the hopes that it would fall out sooner and summon a gift from the tooth fairy. Childhood tooth loss is a crucial developmental step toward a healthy adult smile, but it’s not the only type of tooth loss that may occur.
While dental advances have made adult tooth loss less likely now than it has ever been before, many adults must come to terms with a gap in their smile.
In this blog, we discuss the common causes of adult tooth loss, how adults may replace missing teeth, and why prompt replacement is crucial for good dental health.
What Are the Common Causes of Adult Tooth Loss?
Adult tooth loss can happen to anyone. However, tooth loss disproportionately affects individuals who are over 65 years old, who are smokers, who live under the poverty line, or who are black or Hispanic.
These demographics are not causes of tooth loss but rather contributors. For example, age and smoking can weaken teeth, and those living under the poverty line, a group often including minorities, may have fewer dental and medical resources to combat the damage.
In adults, tooth loss rarely consists of wiggling the offending tooth back and forth. Adults are more likely to lose their teeth in the following ways:
- Dental extraction, which becomes necessary when a tooth is damaged or infected beyond repair and could harm the teeth around it, oral soft tissues, or the jaw
- An impact injury, such as would occur due to an airbag deploying in a car accident and dislodging teeth that are compromised by poor dental care
As we discussed in our previous blog, “Get the Facts: Common Dental Myths That Could Harm Your Teeth,” adult tooth loss is not an inevitability, even for seniors. However, it is important to care for your teeth properly and avoid damaging habits to reduce your risk of tooth loss.
What Options Do Adults Have to Replace Missing Teeth?
In dental emergencies where a tooth is knocked out, a skilled dentist may be able to restore the natural tooth. In order for this procedure to be performed, the patient must see a dentist within an hour of the incident. The tooth must still have all tissue and the root attached and preferably should be untouched.
In most cases, however, simply returning the tooth to its socket is not an option. Instead, patients may be offered the following replacement solutions.
Dental implants consist of a strong titanium screw and a cosmetic crown. To put in the implant, a dentist places the screw in the jaw bone and attaches the crown to the screw’s anchor.
Dental implants may work better when a patient has lost only one tooth and wants the most natural-looking and natural-feeling replacement.
Partial dentures consist of one or more false teeth that either fit into the mouth like a dental retainer or are anchored to the teeth around them. In cases of extensive tooth loss, complete dentures would be used instead.
Dentures are usually used to replace multiple teeth but may be the preferred alternative if the patient does not have adequate gum health or jaw-bone strength to support implants.
The right replacement method for you depends on the extent of your tooth loss, your current oral health, your medical history, and your budget. Consult with your dentist to determine your best option.
Why Is Prompt Replacement So Important?
When a child loses a tooth, the new tooth usually begins to erupt soon afterward, filling the gap. When an adult loses a tooth, the gap must be filled with a false tooth as soon as possible. Lost teeth can change your appearance and the functionality of your mouth.
Adult tooth loss can cause the following issues:
- Facial collapse—Loss of the front teeth changes the shape and muscle tone of the face. Individuals may exhibit sunken cheeks and a shorter facial profile.
- Increased risk of future tooth loss—When an adult tooth is lost, the new opening exposes the enamel and roots of the teeth on either side of the gap. Many individuals with missing teeth that go unreplaced will experience future tooth loss.
- Lower jaw-bone density—Bones stay strong through use. When a tooth is lost, that section of the jaw bone no longer receives stimulation, and the lack of stimulation can change the composition of the bone.
- Misalignment—Without a false tooth to fill in the gap in your smile, your teeth may shift due to your altered bite alignment.
- Reduced chewing capability—Dental experts estimate that each lost tooth reduces a patient’s chewing ability by 10 percent.
- Unclear speech—Depending on which teeth you are missing, the gaps in your smile may also create impediments to your speech.
If you have gaps in your smile, consult with your dentist. Choosing a high-quality tooth replacement can get your dental health back on track and restore your bright, confident grin.