Are Missing Teeth a Significant Problem?
The U.S. population is both aging and growing, with an increasing number of people affected by tooth loss. Missing teeth have some serious consequences, particularly for older people, but research into the development of treatments with predictable success is now a reality in many challenging dental situations.
The First Teeth To Go
In the United States, 70% of the population is missing at least one tooth; usually a back one. The ‘6-year molars’ are the first permanent (adult) teeth to appear in the mouth, and are often the first to be lost as a result of decay, failed endodontic (root canal) therapy or fracture. In older people, they often have one or more crowns, leaving them susceptible to recurrent decay. With an average crown life span of 10 years, these teeth are most at risk of extraction, which is the leading cause of single posterior (back) tooth loss in adults.
Effects of Tooth Loss
The most obvious effects of missing teeth are loss of chewing surfaces and loss of an attractive smile. But there are other less apparent consequences that affect health, facial aesthetics and quality of life. Tooth loss is actually as much about bone as it is about teeth, since bone needs stimulation to maintain its form and density. In the case of the bone surrounding and supporting the teeth, necessary stimulation comes from the teeth themselves as they make hundreds of contacts with each other throughout each day. These small stresses are transmitted through the periodontal ligament holding each tooth in its socket, prompting the bone to remodel and rebuild continually.
When a tooth is lost, the lack of stimulation causes loss of bone – first width, then height, and ultimately volume. A 25% decrease in width of bone occurs in the first year following tooth loss, with a decrease in height over the next few years of about 4 millimeters. And as bone loss progresses, gum tissue also gradually decreases, impairing chewing and speaking functions. And it doesn’t stop there.
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Dental Implants vs. Dentures
While dentures have long been helpful to individuals with missing teeth, they have a silent side effect. Since stimulation of the jawbone no longer occurs at nearly the level caused by individual teeth, bone loss is the result. Dentists now know that dental implants are much preferred over dentures for this and other reasons.
30 year old: Facial structures are properly supported and in natural proportion, maintaining a youthful appearance.
45 year old: Loss of teeth results in subtle structural changes with cheeks sinking in slightly – even at the age of 45.
60 year old: As bone loss progresses, the loss of facial support becomes more pronounced with cheeks and lips losing their support and creating a more aged look.
75 year old: The continued presence of a denture accelerates bone loss and loss of structural support of the face and soft tissues. The lower third of the face becomes dramatically smaller, making the appearance more aged.
As the jawbone begins to resorb (melt away), the distance from nose to chin decreases and with it, and the lower third of the face partially collapses. The chin rotates forward and upward, and the cheeks, having lost tooth support, become hollow. Extreme loss of bone can also make an individual more prone to jaw fractures. The more teeth lost, the more function lost, leading to serious aesthetic and functional problems.
So-called ‘bite collapse’ can occur when only some of the back teeth, which support the height (vertical dimension) of the face, are missing. This can cause the front teeth to be squashed or pushed forward, as they were not designed to support facial height or chew food – only to hold and incise or tear it. Toothless people appear unhappy when their mouths are at rest because their lips, unsupported by teeth and gum tissues, cave in ad sag. Without teeth present, the tongue spreads into that space and the face collapses along with self-confidence.
Almost Never Too Late for Dental Implants
While it’s always better to replace lost teeth within a few months of the loss, new bone and gum grafting methods have made implants possible long after teeth have been lost. To find out whether you’re a candidate for dental implants, contact the nearest $1895 Dental Implants dental professional, and don’t forget to view available dental implant financing options.
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