Most adults start off with a full set of 32 teeth, comprising incisors, canines, premolars and molars. However, by middle age (45-65), many are missing at least one tooth. One in four people aged over 65 in the U.S. has lost all their teeth. Common causes of tooth loss are gum disease (periodontitis), decay and injury.
Periodontal diseases attack the tissue and ligaments of the gums that provide an anchor for your teeth, protect the tooth roots, and stimulate jaw bone growth around the tooth.
Tooth decay occurs when bacteria turns the starch and sugar that accumulates in your mouth into acids that weaken the protective layer of tooth enamel. This can eventually create cavities and kill the tooth.
Injuries such as sporting accidents can result in tooth loss and trauma to the jaw bone and gums. Frequently, this trauma becomes apparent only months or years after the impact, by which time the tooth root has already sustained prolonged damage.
In rare cases, people suffer from a disorder called anodontia, the congenital absence of all primary or permanent teeth.
Each Tooth Plays a Vital Role
All teeth are important. They help you to chew and grind up food, and to speak clearly and show of your smile. Your teeth also play a crucial role in the structure of your mouth and in relation to the other teeth. Leaving a gap if you lose a tooth can have serious consequences.
One or more missing teeth can cause shifting of bite pressure onto other teeth, which can, over time, cause these teeth to move into the space the missing tooth once occupied. Missing teeth also make it easier for plaque to build up in places that are hard to clean, resulting in gum infections that can lead to the loss of more teeth.
A further potential problem if a missing tooth is not replaced is that the bone that used to surround it can start to deteriorate and erode. Replacing lost teeth is also important if a visible gap has been left, which can be a source of embarrassment resulting in lack of self-confidence.
Teeth Replacement Options
Replacement teeth should last for years, and the American Dental Association (ADA) stresses the importance of choosing a treatment that's right for you. Common options are implants, fixed bridges, full dentures and removable partial dentures.
Implants have become a popular option to replace damaged or missing teeth. Providing a secure foundation for removable or permanent artificial teeth, dental implants can be used instead of bridges and dentures or as a support for a dental plate. They feel and look like your own teeth, and are typically the preferred option for replacing a single tooth, although they can also be used to replace several teeth.
The implant itself is a small titanium post, fixed into the bone socket of missing teeth. The jaw bone grows back around the implant, holding it firmly in the jaw. When the implant and bone have bonded, an abutment is fitted to hold the new tooth securely, and a crown is then attached to the abutment.
A major advantage of implants is improvement in the bite function. While the biting pressure of conventional dentures is far less than that of natural teeth, the bite power of implant-retained dentures is as strong as that achieved by your original teeth. A further benefit of implants is that they are practically indistinguishable from the surrounding natural teeth. Also, according to Ivory DDS in Sandpoint, "One of the most significant developments with dental implants is our ability to restore excellent comfort and function for patients who are wearing conventional dentures."
As part of your jaw, implants are a permanent solution, unlike bridges and removable dentures, which may have to be swapped out over time. Many people find dentures inconvenient, but taking care of implant teeth is precisely the same as oral hygiene for natural teeth: you brush and floss them but you don’t have to apply fixative creams or soak them overnight. Implants don’t require adjustments to surrounding teeth, and they help to prevent healthy adjacent teeth from shifting.
Comprising artificial teeth fused to a frame, a dental bridge can be used to replace several missing teeth. The bridge is supported by implants or teeth surrounding the gap, while the middle section replaces the lost tooth. Bridges can also be used on implants, usually when two or more teeth are missing.
If the bridge is to be anchored to adjacent teeth rather than implants, these teeth have to be reduced in size by grinding them down. Bridges made of metal and covered with porcelain can result in visible black metal lines at the rim of the bridge. This problem can be avoided with all-ceramic bridges.
Complete dentures known as conventional dentures consist of an entire set of artificial lower and upper teeth, fitted several weeks after the teeth have been removed, and held in place by suction. Newly-fitted dentures may feel awkward for a few weeks, during which time speaking and eating might take a little practice. Unlike conventional dentures, immediate dentures can be positioned as soon as the teeth are taken out, as an interim measure during the healing period.
Removable Partial Dentures
Partial dentures to replace a limited number of teeth come in the form of replacement teeth attached to a plastic base supported by the gums and remaining teeth, and they can be taken out for cleaning. Partial dentures are more secure and comfortable than standard full dentures, and usually less costly than implants or bridges.
According to The Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry, the number of adults in the U.S. needing dentures is expected to rise from 33.6 million in 1991 to 37.9 million in 2020.
An experienced cosmetic dentist can ensure that your dentures look natural. While standard dentures are formed with a heat curing process, cosmetic dentures have a special acrylic base that prevents shrinkage.
Dental implants – whether used as a single implant to support a crown or as multiple implants to support a partial or full denture – can transform a patient’s life in terms of both aesthetics and functionality.