When we are children, losing baby teeth is considered cute, and in many cases it’s a source of pride. Children’s missing teeth get celebrated with traditions like the tooth fairy and commemorated in songs like “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.”
But it’s not quite the same experience for adults missing their permanent teeth. Missing teeth as an adult can be fraught with anxiety, insecurity and low self-esteem. But if you thought the experience was only dangerous to your mental health, think again. Missing teeth as an adult could cause more problems than you may realize.
“The first concern dentists have when you lose adult teeth is bone loss,” says Dr. Alexandra George, a dentist based in Wexford, Pennsylvania.
Bone loss is caused when the bone that supports the missing tooth begins to deteriorate. This happens because the tooth is no longer stimulating the bone, so the bone begins to lose strength, much like an unused muscle might. The longer the bone deteriorates, the higher the risk of surrounding bone deteriorating, which in turn can cause even more tooth loss.
Another problem caused by missing teeth is movement of the remaining teeth.
“When a space opens in your mouth, the surrounding teeth might shift a bit. Eventually enough teeth can move that all of your teeth might move out of alignment,” says George. “Then you are looking at orthodontic work to correct the shifting.”
Not only can the teeth move, but the bite can also change due to missing teeth, and a bad bite can cause its own list of problems.
“A bad bite can cause everything from jaw pain to chipped, cracked teeth and uneven wear on the teeth,” says George. “It can even cause teeth grinding and may affect conditions like temporomandibular joint dysfunction.”
Other problems caused by missing teeth include difficulty speaking, difficulty chewing and even a sunken, hollowed, aged appearance in the face. Thankfully, there is a solution, says George.
“Replacing lost teeth is the best defense against bone loss and all of these other problems,” says George. “And it’s a lot easier than you think.”
Dr. George recommends bridges and especially dental implants for anyone missing adult teeth, but she says when it comes to dental implants, timing is key.
“For a successful dental implantation, you need to act quickly,” she says. “The sooner you replace the tooth following the tooth loss, the better.”
That’s because bone loss causes some people to miss their window to get dental implants.
“Sometimes if you wait too long to get dental implants, the bone deteriorates so much the implant won’t take,” says George. “So be sure to act quickly for the best results.”