The Consequences Of Losing Teeth


           While many people do not consider losing a tooth to be critical, especially if it is not one of their front teeth, the long term consequences of tooth loss can be quite serious. Teeth are meant to work together as a team and if any of your teeth (with the possible exception of your wisdom teeth or those removed for orthodontic treatment) are lost, your remaining teeth will be jeopardized as a result. The effects of tooth loss, beside the cosmetic as when a missing tooth shows as you smile or your face appears gaunt due to lack of cheek support, are many and harmful. They include; malocclusion, periodontal problems, hypereruption, speech defects, fillings lost from or fracture of your remaining teeth and TMJ problems among others. These difficulties can have real and adverse consequences on the quality of your life.

           To help you understand how these different predicaments arise let us explain what happens when a tooth is lost. Your teeth tend to move until they hit something. Thus, when you lose a tooth, adjacent teeth will often begin to drift into the space vacated by the missing tooth. This movement can consist of tipping and /or rotating that often negatively affects your bite (a condition called malocclusion) to the point where the strain on one or both of your TMJs (jaw joints) can cause pain or even locking. When you lose one of your back teeth, it hinders your ability to chew on that side due to a decrease in chewing surface. Your natural response is to chew on the opposite side where you have more chewing surface. This results in more force being exerted more often on your teeth on that other side which can lead to a greater chance of broken teeth and lost fillings. The tooth or teeth that normally touched the missing one when you bite together will often start coming in more (a process known as hypereruption) so much so that large amounts of their roots begin to show. This will cause you to have root decay, sensitive teeth and gum problems around them that are termed periodontal disease. The aforementioned tipping and rotating also may produce periodontal complications. Tooth loss also hampers speaking. Your speech is a complex interchange involving several structures in your head. Included in this interplay are your teeth and the interaction your tongue, lips and cheeks have with them. The loss of one or more of your teeth will make it difficult for you to speak and this difficulty will increase as more teeth are lost to the point where you may no longer be able to adapt to a normal pattern of speech.


Hypereruption is one consequence of losing teeth.


           The preceding, I hope, has demonstrated to you how invaluable each and every one of your teeth really is. You only have one set of permanent teeth and you should do everything you reasonably can to protect and maintain them. This begins with prevention. No health care is more effective than prevention. To prevent problems before they occur is the easiest and most cost effective means of preserving your natural teeth. We emphasize prevention here in the office because it is the best care that we can offer you. You, the dental patient must do your part as well. We must see you at least twice a year every year for cleanings, exams and necessary X-Rays. You, at home, must follow up on the oral care instructions and diet advice that we give you. In this way your risk for the problems that can end in tooth loss is minimized.

           If decay or gum problems should arise it is essential that you follow through on one of the options we give you for treating the condition. The earlier a problem is treated the more favorable your result will be and the less costly will be your treatment. It is extremely important that when you have a gum or decay problem diagnosed that you have it treated as early as possible. Delaying treatment will result in more complicated and more costly treatments. These more involved treatments are, however, greatly preferable to losing teeth because the long term costs of losing your teeth are much higher (both financially and to your quality of life) than those of saving them.

           This is because the cost of replacing missing teeth, especially with fixed options that are not removable like full or partial dentures, is much higher in terms of time and money than saving them. Replacing a missing tooth with bridgework or an implant supported crown takes longer in most cases and is more costly than saving a tooth with a root canal, a post-with-core-build-up and a crown. The bottom line is to do everything you can to keep your natural teeth. Prevention is the best way to do this, but almost any treatment needed to retain your teeth is preferable to losing them. Remember, no replacement option is better than your own, healthy teeth.

           Should you lose one or more of your natural teeth, it is imperative that you replace them. If you don't, all the problems listed previously will recur with your remaining teeth in a vicious cycle that over years and decades will lead to more tooth loss and eventually edentulism (toothlessness).




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Dr. Barry F. McArdle, D.M.D. ~ 118 Maplewood Avenue, The Captain Moses House, Suite B-7, Portsmouth, NH 03801

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