6 Dental Effects of Missing a Tooth
For children, the loss of a baby tooth signifies a rite of passage, rewarded handsomely by the Tooth Fairy in the form of some coins tucked underneath a pillow. For adults, the loss of a tooth doesn’t quite hold the same charm. As a matter of fact it can be a serious dental health concern.
Tooth loss is often caused by tooth decay or trauma. Although it can be corrected with restorative options like dental implants, bridges and dentures, a large number of people forego treatment and simply live with the loss. (The American College of Prosthodontists estimates that 120 million Americans are missing at least one tooth.) If you don’t have dental insurance, the cost of dental implants or other restorations may be enough to dissuade you from replacing a missing tooth. Especially if it’s a molar hidden out of sight of your smile line.
The reality is that not replacing one or more lost tooth could be detrimental to the health and functionality of your smile. By failing to replace a tooth, you could leave yourself at risk of developing additional, more costly problems that may interfere with your everyday life.
Here are 6 dental consequences associated with not replacing missing teeth:
1. Bone Loss
Failure to replace a missing tooth (or teeth) is the leading cause of jaw bone loss. Teeth help to stimulate and support the bone of the jaw; much the same way that exercise helps to stimulate and support muscle health. If you are missing teeth, the bone that once supported them is no longer stimulated. In the same way that unused muscle can become atrophied, so too can unused jaw bone. Dental implants include screws that fuse with the bone to provide maximum strength and support. This process (osseointegration) supports the jaw bone as much as it does the visible crown.
2. Shifting Teeth
Although the teeth are firmly attached to the jaw bone, they can nonetheless shift and move over time for any number of reasons (gum recession, tooth decay, etc.). This issue of shifting can be accelerated significantly with one or more missing teeth. The gap(s) create vast spaces into which adjacent teeth can shift. This shifting creates more space for other teeth to shift and, in a domino effect, the entire bite can be impacted.
3. Bite Irregularities
Missing one or more teeth can cause bite irregularities that impact the health of your remaining teeth, your gums, your head and neck, your jaw muscles and your jaw joint (temporomandibular joint). The manner in which the chewing surfaces of your teeth come together determines occlusion (your bite). Missing teeth can lead to shifting of the teeth, which can drastically impact how your teeth come together when you bite.
An improper bite (malocclusion) can lead to a variety of problems, including things like headaches, muscle pain, unnatural wearing of the teeth, tooth loss, sensitivity and even TMJD. Orthodontics can help to correct malocclusion, but it can be an expensive and lengthy treatment process.
4. Difficulty Chewing
We rely on our teeth for the tearing and gnashing of the food we eat. Depending of the location of your missing tooth/teeth, you may experience difficulty eating some of your favorite everyday foods. Missing front teeth can be particularly problematic as we use them to break off bites of food. The back teeth play a major role in grinding up meat and other foods. Missing molars therefore affect the manner in which we chew everything. And failure to chew adequately can impact digestion, resulting in problems like acid reflux.
This sort of nuisance is completely avoidable by replacing missing teeth.
5. Facial Aesthetics
Your teeth help support the shape and structure of your face. You’d be surprised how missing teeth can impact facial aesthetics. As the atrophied jaw bone resorbs the face can begin to look sunken and aged. If you’ve ever seen someone with removable dentures when they take them out, you’ll have a sense of the effects of missing teeth on appearance.
6. Speech Issues
Believe it or not, your teeth play a role in speech. Missing teeth (or even large gaps between teeth) can make it difficult to pronounce certain words. You may experience slurring, whistling or even spitting when speaking.