You may be asking yourself, why would anyone want to lose their teeth? Indeed, that is a very good question. The sad truth is that most people who lose teeth do it by ignoring small issues that develop into major problems resulting in tooth loss. There are two popular ways in which people lose their teeth due to sheer neglect: tooth decay and gum disease. People also lose teeth due to mouth trauma, usually vehicular or sporting accidents. Less common is tooth loss due to trauma caused by violence.
Traumatic Tooth Loss
Accidents are just that, unexpected events that happen out of the blue. Sporting events are the one area of accidental traumatic tooth loss where there is a possibility that the loss of a tooth or teeth could be avoided. Mouthguards, especially custom-made mouthguards, help protect the teeth from trauma.
Most people understand the importance of wearing mouthguards for contact sports such as football and hockey. In fact, football, ice hockey, lacrosse and field hockey are mandated to use mouthguards by the National Federation of State High School Associations. The one sport with the most dental injuries, however, has no such mandate.
Basketball is not considered a contact sport, yet many mouth injuries, including traumatic tooth loss, happen during play. According to an article in the National Library of Medicine, research has shown that the highest rate of dental injuries among college athletes occurs during basketball. Wearing a mouthguard could save the teeth from being injured. Many dentists encourage the use of mouthguards for those who play basketball, whether the player is professional, amateur or just a weekend athlete.
Tooth Loss Due to Dental Decay
The loss of primary teeth is a natural occurrence. Baby teeth are meant to be used only for a while. They pave the way and hold space for permanent teeth. Your permanent teeth are intended to last your entire life. Unfortunately, few people manage to reach the age of 50 without losing at least a few of their teeth, and this is not counting wisdom teeth.
Of American adults between the ages of 35 – 44, 69% have lost at least one tooth. By the time the average adult reaches 50, he or she has probably lost about 12 teeth. If you adjust for wisdom teeth being extracted, that is still 8 permanent teeth lost. Approximately 26% of those aged 65 to 74 have lost all their teeth.
Tooth loss before age 50 is primarily due to dental decay. Even in this day and age of advanced dental technology and products, tooth loss due to decay is still an issue. Prevention practices such as properly brushing and flossing your teeth and regular dental checkups will help save teeth from destructive decay, but too often, dental care is one of the last items on the list of things to do.
The problem begins with a tiny hole in the tooth enamel. Harmful bacteria find a place to breed and feed on the simple sugars consumed in the form of sugary drinks and foods. The first stages of decay are barely noticeable. When these little spots are ignored, the acids produced by the bacteria eat though the tooth enamel and attack the next layer of the tooth, which is the dentin.
This second layer of the tooth structure, although hard, is not as hard as the enamel layer. The enamel layer of the tooth is the hardest substance in the human body, including bone. The enamel is not living tissue per se. The dentin is considered living tissue. It has the capability of constant growth and repair, unlike the enamel.
Decay moves faster in this living layer of tissue. Dentin is sensitive to bacteria and sometimes this sensitivity can be felt when a tooth is in a state of decay. The tooth might be sensitive to hot or cold foods. Some people may experience a twinge of discomfort or pain when something sweet hits the decayed area. At this stage, the tooth can be saved if the decayed tissue is removed and the cavity is filled.
If the tooth is neglected, the decay continues to advance. Because the dentin is softer than enamel, the decay moves faster and could possibly hollow out the tooth. As is goes deeper into the inner part of the tooth, it eventually reaches the pulp where the nerves and blood vessels provide nourishment to the tooth. Once the pulp is involved, the fate of the tooth becomes questionable.
The body activates the immune system to fight off the infection caused by the bacteria. The byproducts produced by this battle create toxins that can form an abscess at the apex of the roots. When an abscess forms, the bone is affected and may begin to dissolve. Meanwhile, the inflammation and swelling can cause excruciating pain.
In the worst-case scenario, the infection spills over into the bloodstream and can create sepsis in the body. The danger of an abscess in one of the teeth on the upper arch is that the infection could affect the sinus and even reach as far as the brain. While these scenarios are unlikely, it is worth noting that such things have happened to some patients.
Tooth Loss Due to Gum Disease
Similar to dental decay, gum disease begins with a small change in the oral environment. Plaque, a clear sticky substance containing harmful bacteria, adheres to the surface of teeth. When it is thoroughly cleaned off, there is not a problem. When it is not, it turns to a hard, yellow-brown substance called tartar or calculus.
The buildup of tartar begins to push the gums away from the teeth. This separation of teeth and gums produces pockets in which harmful bacteria breed, causing the gums to become infected. They may swell and turn bright pink or red. They may bleed when the teeth are brushed or flossed.
Tartar cannot be removed by merely brushing and flossing. If it is not removed, it continues to accumulate making the condition worse. If neglected, the infection finally begins eating away at bone structure and gum tissue. As the bone supporting teeth dissolves, the teeth become loose in their sockets and can eventually fall out. Gum tissue become necrotic and will need to be removed.
Keep Teeth and Gums Healthy
No one really wants to lose their teeth. The best way to keep your teeth and gums healthy is to brush and floss after meals. Eat healthy foods and keep sugary drinks and snacks to a minimum. Use a mouthguard when playing a sport that could lead to mouth trauma. Get regular dental checkups.
When you take preventive measures to ensure your oral health, you increase your chances of making it to your sunset years with most of your teeth healthy and intact. It is quite easy to lose your teeth without really trying, but to keep them healthy takes effort and intention. The good news is, keeping your teeth healthy is worth the time and effort. Good oral health keeps your smile looking nice, and it is much more cost effective than the alternative.
Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta will help you keep your smile looking its best and we will also help you keep your oral health at its peak. Call today to schedule your appointment with us.