When you’re a child, losing a tooth is considered a rite of passage, just one more step toward being a “grown-up.” But as an adult, tooth loss is an upsetting experience. After all, when you’re a child, you know a missing “baby” tooth will be replaced by a permanent tooth. But as an adult, the teeth you have are the only natural teeth you’ll ever have. It’s no surprise that when one of those teeth is lost, due to trauma, decay or another reason, it can be an unsettling experience.
In the U.S., more than 36 million people are missing at least one adult tooth, according to the American College of Prosthodontists. Even a single missing tooth can have big consequences for your oral health and your overall health, too. Fortunately, there are solutions for missing teeth, including bridges, dentures, and state-of-the-art dental implants. The bad news is that all too often, people delay getting a replacement for their missing tooth, leaving them at an increased risk for other oral health issues, including additional tooth loss. If you’re missing one or more teeth, here’s why it’s so important to have it replaced.
The “domino effect” of tooth loss
You probably don’t give much thought to the way your teeth are “arranged” inside your mouth. But, as it turns out, the way your teeth are positioned has a lot to do with what happens after one of them goes missing. Your upper and lower teeth are designed to work together to chew and bite. That’s no surprise. But what you may not know is that your teeth grow and move based on the pressures they feel or sense around them. Your teeth “line up” the way they do because of the teeth on either side of them, as well as the tooth they’re paired up with either above or below them. So, a molar on your top row of teeth can “sense” its paired-up tooth on the bottom row of teeth. This pairing helps create your bite balance — essentially, how your teeth work to bite and chew and even help you speak.
When one tooth goes missing, it sets off a chain of events, beginning in the tooth it’s paired with and the teeth on either side of it. Once a tooth is gone, the neighboring teeth sense the gap that’s left, and their roots begin to shift position to close up the space. This shifting can wind up causing the roots of these neighboring teeth to become loose, compromising the stability and integrity of the teeth. Over time, weakening in the roots dramatically increases the risks that these teeth will fall out, too. Plus, the gap leaves these neighboring teeth more exposed and more prone to gum disease, which in itself is the leading cause of adult tooth loss in the U.S.
And it’s not just the neighboring teeth that are affected and potentially weakened by this gap. The upper or lower paired tooth also feels the effects. When it no longer meets up with its pair during biting and chewing, the paired tooth can begin to move out of its socket, which means it’s also weakened and more prone to loss. And, as additional teeth are lost and new gaps form, the teeth on either side of those spaces become compromised — and so on, creating what’s long been recognized as the “domino effect” of tooth loss.
Bite problems and jaw pain
An increased risk of additional tooth loss is just one problem you can have when you don’t replace a missing tooth promptly. Your bite balance can also be severely affected. You might not feel as if there’s a lot involved in biting and chewing, but if you’ve lost a tooth, you probably know how odd it feels to eat — at least, until you get used to the gap that’s left. But your teeth feel the change — and they react to it. Just one missing tooth can significantly disrupt your normal bite balance, interfering with the way you eat certain foods.
Over time, the change in your bite balance can increase the strain on your jaw muscles, resulting in significant jaw and facial pain, as well as chronic headaches. When you don’t replace a missing tooth, you can increase your risk of developing temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ, a chronic condition that causes severe jaw discomfort and headaches.
At Couture Smiles Dental Group, we offer an array of tooth replacement options, including dentures, bridges and implants, which look, feel and function just like your natural teeth. Advances in technology and design mean today’s replacement options are more comfortable and natural-looking than ever before. Don’t let a missing tooth increase your risk for serious oral health problems. To learn how we can help, contact the practice today.