Losing a Tooth as an Adult: What Happens?
Losing a tooth as an adult is one of those scenarios that’ll probably never cross your mind until it happens to you. That realization, whether it occurs abruptly—you unknowingly bite down on a nutshell and crack a molar—or gradually—your periodontal disease progresses to the point that a tooth or two loosens—will come as a rude awakening.
But adult tooth loss is far more common than you may realize. At this very moment, 120 million people in the United States are missing at least one tooth, and more than 36 million have no teeth at all, according to the American College of Prosthodontists. And those numbers are only projected to grow over the next couple of decades as our population gets older. By 2030, it’s estimated that one in five people will be 65 or older.
Aging does put you at a heightened risk of losing a tooth—beyond the normal wear-and-tear, everyone over 35 is generally more susceptible to a host of oral health conditions—but it’s not the only risk factor. In truth, just about anyone could be at risk for adult tooth loss because it could occur in so many different ways. (More on that in a moment.) But there are a few things that could be increasing your risk.
Losing a Tooth as an Adult: Are you at greater risk?
Severe periodontal disease was found to be the leading cause of adult tooth loss in a 2015 study that was published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology. Right behind it? Heavy smoking. Though the two pretty much go hand-in-hand. Smokers are more likely to produce bacterial plaque, which leads to gum disease, the earliest presentation of periodontal disease. And it tends to worsen faster in smokers than in nonsmokers.
Grinding your teeth is another common cause of adult tooth loss. Over time, the constant clenching can wear your teeth down, damaging the enamel and putting you at greater risk for infection and tooth decay.
Bypassing the dentist also isn’t helping your cause. Those checkups every six months may feel like a nuisance, but that’s when your dentist is able to spot potential trouble while it’s most easily treated and largely reversible.
Losing a Tooth as an Adult: All the ways you can lose a tooth
When most of us are forced to think about losing a tooth, the image that comes to mind is some sort of accident. Minor damage, like a chip, stemming from the likes of a bad bite or a blow to the face, can be repaired, but serious cracks usually require the tooth to be extracted.
On the opposite end of the timing spectrum, gum disease can gradually evolve to periodontal disease, at which point bacteria begins growing under your gum line, and as it grows, it begins to separate the tooth from the gums. The greater that gap, the higher the likelihood that the tooth is going to loosen and eventually either fall out on its own or need to be removed to prevent further damage to the surrounding teeth.
If that sounds too dramatic to ever be you, consider this: About half of American adults age 30 and older have periodontal disease at this very moment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now that we’ve got your attention, if you’re interested in learning more, check out our four-part blog series on periodontal disease, starting here with How to Tell if You May Have Periodontal Disease.
A cavity left unchecked is also asking for trouble. Caught early—again, a reason to keep those six-month checkups with your dentist—a cavity can be remedied with a filling or a dental crown. However, when it’s left untreated, a cavity can cause decay so extensive that the tooth will need to be extracted.
Losing a Tooth as an Adult: Why you need to restore a missing tooth
A cascade of negative effects begins to occur when you lose even a single tooth as an adult. Almost immediately, you compromise your other teeth and gums because they’ll begin shifting to fill the void, which, eventually, is going to lead to a misaligned bite. In the short term, that’s going to result in some discomfort and premature and uneven wear and tear on the remaining teeth. In the longer term, it could spur more tooth loss.
Also in the long term, the underlying jawbone will begin to deteriorate. It needs constant stimulation, which is easy to come by when you have a mouth full of healthy teeth. Over the course of an average day, they’ll come into contact with each other hundreds of times. The bit of vibration that results is all the stimulation that the bone needs. However, when you lose a tooth, the portion of bone beneath that gap will start to wither from inactivity.
So, remedying your missing tooth (or teeth) is clearly important to your short- and long-term oral health. How, then, should you go about? A dental implant.
An implant replaces the tooth’s root with a titanium post, unlike dentures, the longtime go-to for tooth replacement, which simply sit on top of the gums. Titanium is a biocompatible material, which means that it’ll organically fuse with your jawbone. That has a couple of significant benefits. For one, it creates a stable foundation for your crown or bridge. It’s also going to spur new bone growth. All of that is critical to the longevity of your dental implant and your oral health as a whole. But what’ll matter most to you is that your implant will look and feel natural. After a couple of meals and lots of smiling at mirrors, you’re probably going to forget it’s even there.
It’s time to start smiling more
To learn more about dental implants, schedule a comprehensive periodontal evaluation with Dr. Richard Staller by clicking here. Dr. Staller’s performed more than 8,000 dental implant procedures. It’s time to start smiling more, and Dr. Staller can help you do it.