It would be so nice if when permanent teeth came in, they would stay strong and healthy for a lifetime. After all, that is the way they were designed to function. For many individuals, the permanency of permanent teeth is far less than a lifetime. There are some people who barely make it out of their twenties with all their teeth intact. Statistics on tooth loss are very grim, even for those who take good care of their teeth.
The Sad Truth About Tooth Loss
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by age 50, most Americans have lost an average of 12 teeth. The full adult dentition consists of 32 teeth. That means by age 50 you can expect to have 37% fewer teeth. Granted, four of those are wisdom teeth and most people have those extracted in their late teens or early twenties. But even if you did not have your wisdom teeth pulled, you would still lose about 25% of your teeth by your 50th birthday.
The CDC also reports that 7% of Americans have lost at least one permanent tooth to decay by the time they reach their 17th birthday. The older you get, the worse the statistics become. The number increases to 69% when you get to the age group of 35 to 44. Keep in mind, this is about tooth loss due to decay. So, by your 44th birthday, you may be walking around with at least one gap in your mouth due to a badly decayed tooth that needed extraction. And it gets worse.
Over a quarter of the American population between the ages of 65 to 74 have lost all their teeth. Some of these teeth are extracted due to decay and others either fall out or must be pulled because of periodontal disease. Among older adults, periodontal disease is one of the main causes of tooth loss.
Missing teeth can ruin an otherwise beautiful smile. Unfortunately, that is not all that happens when you lose teeth. One missing tooth can cause a cascading set of events if it is not properly handled. At the same time, there are some teeth you may be better off without.
Bye, Bye Wisdom Teeth!
Wisdom teeth are extracted on a regular basis. They are notorious for causing a variety of problems. They often come in crooked or sideways. Some do not develop properly, and some erupt partway, leaving a flap of gum tissue over the surface of the tooth. Many are impacted, pushing against the roots or the side of the adjacent molar, causing discomfort or serious pain.
There are a few fortunate individuals who have jaws large enough to accommodate these late erupting teeth. Most people have them extracted. Generally, wisdom tooth extraction is not such a bad thing. It could be worse to leave them in. First, there is the pain they can cause. If they do not cause pain, they could present other problems.
A partially erupted wisdom tooth is going to be at a great risk for decay. The gum flap partially covering the top of the tooth becomes a food trap and a place where harmful bacteria can build up and lead to tooth decay and/or gum disease. Wisdom teeth are difficult to reach and therefore challenging to keep clean.
Because they are so far back in the mouth, it can be difficult to recognize a problem developing. Chances are you will not see the early onset of gum disease around a wisdom tooth. If the gum bleeds when you brush, you may be able to detect where it is coming from if you take the time to investigate. It is more likely that your dentist will discover the problem, provided you have regular checkups.
Removal of wisdom teeth can be a positive thing. But what about the other teeth you are in jeopardy of losing as you get older? There may be a temptation to ignore tooth loss if it does not interfere too much with the appearance of your smile. You are probably more likely to get an anterior tooth replaced as soon as you can. A back tooth may not seem as important. After all, you still have a nice smile, and as long as you do not open your mouth too wide, no one will really notice that a back tooth is missing.
They All Have a Role to Play
While it may be true that wisdom teeth cause more problems than they are worth, the other 28 teeth are important. The more you have missing, the more important it is that you have them replaced. One missing tooth can cause a variety of problems if it is not replaced in a timely fashion.
Your teeth are designed not only to last a lifetime when well-maintained, they also function as a unit. You have four types of teeth and each type has a certain function:
- Incisors – These are the front teeth and they cut your food. You have four on top and four on the bottom.
- Canines – A canine is also known as the “eye tooth.” There are four canines: one on each side, top and bottom. These teeth are for tearing food. They also shape the corners of the mouth.
- Premolars (Bicuspids) – Located behind the canines, bicuspids serve to crush food. There are two on each side top and bottom.
- Molars – These back teeth are broader and flatter than the bicuspids. They have 4-5 cusps, and they are designed for crushing food. Counting the wisdom teeth, there are 12 molars in a full set of teeth.
The space left by one missing tooth, top or bottom, affects the opposing tooth as well as the teeth on either side of the space. Over time, if the tooth is not replaced, significant changes can take place which might eventually affect several teeth and your oral health.
The Domino Effect of Missing Teeth
Ideally, your teeth are aligned properly with only a tiny space between each one – just enough for a thread of dental floss to pass through. This design helps prevent food from accumulating between teeth. When a tooth is missing for a while, the teeth adjacent to the space begin to shift into that space. They may lean into it or torque out of position. The opposing tooth may also alter its position.
When teeth adjacent to the space begin to shift, they open up a small gap with the tooth next door. This small gap can become a food trap. The longer the space remains, the more shifting takes place and over the years, you could end up with several small gaps and food traps as the teeth slowly move out of place.
This process throws your teeth out of alignment. A smile line that was once straight now may have small spaces between teeth and some may be leaning at different angles. Your smile has been compromised.
In addition to your smile being compromised, losing molars and premolars also interferes with chewing your food properly. The more teeth you lose, the more chewing surface disappears and that means your food is not being chewed properly. When food is not broken down into small enough pieces, it can interfere with digestion. Also, the nutrients in the food are more difficult for the body to extract when you swallow chunks.
To summarize, tooth loss can lead to digestive problems that can affect your overall health, and gum disease, which can also affect your overall health. The fewer teeth you have, the greater your risk for health problems. In fact, research shows that people who are missing all their teeth are at a higher risk for chronic kidney problems.
The bottom line is, you need to take good care of your teeth and help them last as long as possible. When you lose a tooth, get it replaced before it causes more problems. Restore your smile and your oral health with tooth replacement options at Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta. Call today to schedule your appointment.