Envy the shark! It has an enormous number of teeth, so you would think it could easily do without a few. But no, the shark will re-grow teeth as it loses them, sometimes getting through thousands in a lifetime.
Not so with us poor humans; after our milk teeth have been replaced by our adult teeth, that is it—no more fresh teeth when we lose the old ones. And one of the facts of life is that most of us will lose one or more teeth before we are done.
Why are Lost Teeth a Problem?
Our teeth are an integral part of our heads, and they do a very important job—eating! The two most obvious effects of tooth loss are to our appearance and to our effectiveness at dealing with food.
The more teeth we lose the more our faces will mold around the gap, so that our skin and lips will lose their former appearance. This can have the effect of shrinking our mouths or hollowing our cheeks.
Each tooth has its use in the biting and chewing of food. As they go, the way we eat food will begin to change, and depending on which teeth are missing certain foods get more difficult to eat, especially hard or chewy things.
Longer Term Issues
It is not just the immediate effect of tooth loss that can have an impact on our lives. Over time the missing tooth has knock-on effects on our gums, jaws, and the remaining teeth.
The health of our bones is maintained by the constant stress and relief that they get in normal life. When that is taken away the calcium in the bones is gradually removed by the body’s natural processes. Jawbones are exactly the same—without the constant pressure and relief the tooth’s root, the bone begins to reduce in size and strength.
This has an impact on neighboring teeth, which anyway have a natural tendency to drift when there are no adjacent teeth keeping them in place. The teeth on each side of the gap, and the opposing teeth in the opposite jaw, will tend to move slightly, which can open up places where trapped food and bacteria can lodge, affecting gum health.
What Can be Done?
Currently there are three main ways of dealing with missing teeth. A good dentist can advise on the options, and a website such as that at MazzaDental.com can help you review what is available.
- Implants are very much the solution of the moment. The process involves surgically implanting a post into the jaw. A prosthetic tooth is then fixed to the post. It is an expensive procedure, but as it is currently the most long-lasting treatment it may prove cost effective in the long run. It is not suitable for everyone, particularly those who might be exposed to risk by the surgery involved. Where there has been extensive bone loss it may be a more complicated procedure. But where it is effective (and it is in the vast majority of cases) it should function like a normal tooth for decades.
- A fixed bridge is another way of replacing a tooth. Here the teeth on each side of the gap are crowned and the artificial tooth is held between them. A fixed bridge in a healthy mouth can be a very effective treatment. This must be weighed against the invasive work on the two supporting teeth, exposing them to new risk, and against the extra care which must be taken in dental hygiene around the area.
- Finally there is, of course, the humble denture. Dentures can either full (where the teeth are fixed to a plate which is held in the mouth) or partial (where the teeth are on a plastic base which is molded around the gum and neighboring teeth). Dentures are in the short term the most economical solution, but they do not suit everyone. They can become loose as the jawbone and gums change shape over the years, and they can be stressful to remaining teeth. They also usually need to be taken out at night, which does not suit everyone.
Better Not to Wait
It may be that future generations will enjoy the results of stem cell therapy and grow their own replacement teeth like sharks. But it is probably not a good idea for those who are missing teeth now to wait for that day to come. The loss of a tooth is the start of an ongoing process, and the sooner you and your dentist consider the best way to deal with it, the better.
Brooke Reed works as a receptionist at a busy dental clinic and is often the first port of call, after online research, for patients asking questions about implant options. She writes about dental subjects helping to answer questions and provide insider knowledge.