As we age and become more prone to dental disease and decay it is common for our teeth to give out and require extraction. Simply, we are outliving the integrity of our teeth. If you are living a long life and can enjoy your years consider yourself lucky as many are not afforded this opportunity. Many patient present to our office for dental extraction and are uncertain as to what to do about it and what there options are after treatment. Many patients do not understand the problems that can result from a missing tooth. The decision to replace a tooth or not to replace a tooth is largely one of a lifestyle choice. No one has ever died from a missing tooth and it is likely that no one ever will. While missing a tooth may not be immediately detrimental to your life the, failing to replace a tooth could leave you with more costly problems that could interfere with your everyday life. The question becomes… how well do you want to live into your old age and do you want to enjoy an active and vibrant lifestyle where you are able to eat, laugh and play confidently without limitations? For many people the answer is yes, they do want to live well and enjoy their life into their old age. But many people need to understand the benefits that having a tooth will afford them. So let’s start with common problems that can and do occur when a tooth is missing. Keep in mind that the problems may be different based on the specific tooth that is missing and its location in the mouth.
- Shifting of teeth. Adjacent teeth can shift into the space where the tooth used to be. Also a tooth on the opposing arch can grow into the space that the extracted tooth used to occupy. We call this super-eruption of a tooth. The problem with shifted teeth is that when they are not in their natural position or are not supported by other teeth the way they were meant to be they themselves become unhealthy. Hygiene will become more problematic and the misplaced tooth may be subject to unfavorable forces. When this happens this tooth will likely have a poor long term prognosis, in other words it just won’t last as long. This is due to decay or gum disease that will inflict this tooth. Once this occurs, in most cases it will need to removed and as you can probably guess, other teeth will now have the opportunity to shift around.
- Loss of the ability to chew and chewing efficiency. Clearly your teeth are used for chewing food. As you lose teeth your ability to perform that function will be compromised. Additionally, your ability to eat nutritious foods that support your health will also be compromised. When food is broken down by the chewing process, the nutrients in that food become available to your body for absorption. Poorly chewed food can and will lead to problems with digestion and can lead to malnutrition.
- Loss of social confidence. Our ability to smile in social settings gives us confidence in these settings, allows us to communicate and develop bonds and close social connections. Our smile says a lot about us especially when we meet people for the first time. In some cases, such as sales or public relations, one’s livelihood could depend on the ability to connect with people.
- Bone loss. When a tooth has been lost or removed due to decay or periodontal disease the bone which was supporting the tooth undergoes a process called atrophy. This means that the bone partially dissolves away over time leaving the bony ridge, where the tooth used to sit, smaller. Although these changes take time to occur they can result in loss of facial support. When the bone is not at an acceptable height or thickness it can make restoring the site with a dental implant more challenging and costly.
- Difficulty with speech. Missing one of you front teeth can make speech more difficult and can sometimes lead to a lisp or slurring your words. I may make it almost impossible to whistle. Certain prosthetic solutions may not be ideal to correct these problems. If you are suffering from this type of problem speak to your restorative dentist to find the best solution for you.