There are many reasons why you might have a gap in your pearly whites. Having missing teeth is not just a cosmetic issue. The consequences of an absent tooth could include: decreased chewing ability, nutrition implications, difficulty speaking, diminished self-esteem, and additional dental problems.
Here are some of the most common reasons for tooth loss:
- Gum Disease - Unchecked periodontal disease is one of the leading causes of missing teeth. In fact, a recent study of almost 2000 patients showed that 57% of extracted teeth in adults were lost as a result of gum disease. You can read all about periodontal disease on this Brighter blog, but here are the basics. Poor oral hygiene and a plethora of other factors lead to enflamed gums that pull away from the teeth, creating “pockets” of space against the roots of your teeth. Bacteria and infection fill these pockets and the result of your body fighting this infection, as well as the bi-products of the bacteria themselves, lead to the breakdown of the bones surrounding your teeth. Without a strong anchor to keep your teeth stable against chewing forces, they can become loose and fall out. Or, infection in your mouth can become so significant that teeth need to be removed by your dentist.
- Dental Caries - While some early cavities simply require a shallow filling, decay that is left untreated for too long can reach to the pulp cavity (the innermost area of your tooth where the root canal to the nerve is located) and even lead to pus formation around the roots of your teeth. Putting off having caries treatment may cause damage to be too significant for your dentist to save the tooth.
- Tooth Trauma - The most common causes of accidental tooth trauma are: falls, car accidents and sports injuries. Some of these mishaps may be impossible to avoid, however, wearing proper protective gear, like helmets and mouth guards, when playing contact sports is an important factor in protecting your permanent teeth. (You can purchase over the counter devices, or your dentist can make a custom fit mouth protector for you.) Even if your tooth isn’t immediately knocked out, you should talk to your dentist about any major tooth injury as root fractures or cracks may cause serious dental issues in the future if not addressed.
- Tobacco Use - Researchers say that tobacco users are about 50% more likely than non-smokers to lose their teeth. Smoking or using smokeless tobacco significantly increases your risk for periodontal disease, mouth sores and oral cancer. It also restricts the blood supply to your oral cavity which aggravates gum disease and delays the healing process of tooth extractions, periodontal disease treatments and oral surgery.
- Poor Nutrition - Getting enough of the right nutrients and avoiding too much of the wrong ones are also important in the longevity of the life of your teeth. Calcium, in particular, is important for the density of the bones surrounding and supporting the teeth. Insufficient calcium intake has been linked with an increased risk for tooth loss. Additionally, diets high in sugars and acids promote plaque and tartar build up and enamel loss, all of which can contribute to poor tooth health and damaged teeth and gums.
- Not addressing missing teeth - Failure to replace a lost permanent tooth in a timely manner can result in a chain reaction of many adverse side effects to your oral health- including the loss of additional teeth! When a tooth is missing, the bone beneath the empty space no longer receives stimulation and it begins to resorb. Loss of bone support affects the health and stability of the teeth surrounding the empty space. The tooth above the missing tooth is negatively affected as well. Because it is no longer making contact with the tooth below, it may begin to “over erupt.” This process exposes the root of the tooth which is less protected more prone to decay than the crown. Empty spaces can also cause the teeth to move or “drift” in your mouth, resulting in bite problems, or malocclusion.
While tooth loss is common, it is not inevitable. A smart oral hygiene routine, good habits, and regular trips to the dentist can help to stave off most of these major contributors to missing teeth. If you do have an absent tooth, talk to your dentist about options to replace it and keep your smile looking great and your teeth functioning at top notch.