The problems caused by missing teeth and how dental implants can help

It is easy to think that losing a tooth is not going to cause you any problems. But unfortunately the long-term consequences of tooth loss can be quite serious. Dental implants can help you avoid the risks.

When you lose a tooth you may wonder what to do next. One of your thoughts is likely to be, why replace it? Missing teeth can result in difficulty eating, speaking and can change the shape of your face. Remaining teeth can become loose, difficult to clean and more at risk from decay.

Missing teeth can actually affect your overall health and the health of your mouth. We tend to think about teeth as individual units, but in fact they make up a complete system. Teeth work together in harmony, and problems can occur when they don’t.

How do people lose their teeth?

You may be considering a dental implant if you have lost teeth due to one or more of the following;

Gum (periodontal) disease and tooth decay

Trauma — teeth can be lost as a result of an accident, sports injury or fall. Using your teeth to open bottles and tooth grinding can all result in damage

Serious illness — in addition to gum disease chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, osteomyelitis and autoimmune problems can all lead to teeth loss

Most adults can expect to start with 32 teeth. The four third molars or ‘wisdom teeth’ are often removed because there is not enough room in the mouth. However, the remaining 28 are important and needed. With the exception of wisdom teeth and extractions necessary for orthodontic treatment, there can be an increased risk of losing your remaining teeth when missing teeth are not replaced.

Missing teeth affect your smile

If you have a missing tooth or teeth, especially if they are visible when you smile, then you may feel self-conscious and embarrassed. The loss of a front tooth can negatively affect the appearance of your smile and consequently your confidence and self-esteem.

Dr Lucy Stock, Gentle Dental Care, Belfast comments, “Whatever the reason for the missing tooth, the effect on a person can be greater than anticipated. For some people the loss of a tooth is water off a duck’s back, while to others the effect can be quite emotional and deep felt. For example, people at times might say that they are upset at losing a part of their body, or they don’t want to end up with dentures like a family member had. Aside from the emotional aspect, tooth loss can affect not only your mouth but your entire body.”

Dr Stock adds, “When you smile, people treat you differently. You’re viewed as more attractive, reliable, relaxed and sincere. So replacing missing teeth is often important to get a person smiling confidently again.”

Losing or damaging your teeth can be an upsetting experience. In modern society an attractive smile is often viewed as a sign of health and beauty. Consequently people with gaps are sometimes reluctant to smile properly. This can be awkward and limiting when dealing with others face-to-face. Many people find that missing teeth become an important issue when having photographs taken at weddings and other social occasions.

Gaps can encourage tooth movement

Your teeth may feel firmly set in your jaw bone but they are capable of movement. This is a good thing as it allows their position to adjust to changes brought on by age and other factors. But as soon as you have a gap from a missing tooth, adjacent teeth may begin to move or drift into the space. This results in teeth being out of their normal position, which can make them harder to clean and therefore more at risk from decay and gum disease.

If a lower tooth is extracted, the opposing tooth in the upper jaw may protrude into the missing tooth space — a process known as overeruption or supereruption. This also may result in root structure becoming exposed, risking decay and inflammation.

Dr Azad Eyrumlu, Southern Dental Implant Centres, Snodland comments, “Movement of adjacent teeth can lead to further tooth decay and food impaction where your teeth would normally have been in contact with each other. This in turn results in additional dental work such as fillings, crowns and in some cases further tooth loss.”

Don’t ignore missing back teeth

Missing teeth can set off a chain reaction of movement which could eventually affect jaw function. Tooth movement can negatively affect your bite — a condition called malocclusion.

Dr Graham Browning, South Coast Dental Specialists, Wimborne says, “Patients do not appreciate that the loss of back teeth can change the bite. The extra force on the front teeth can mean that they are prone to moving or cracking and chipping. I see many patients that are referred to me because their front teeth are starting to become loose or are chipping. We end up replacing the back teeth first and then dealing with the front teeth.”

All this can happen from the loss of a tooth. Your dentist can assess how an extraction will affect the stability of your bite. It’s worth bearing in mind that early replacement of lost back teeth can prevent damage to front teeth and so save you money in the long run.

Difficulty eating

A major factor in losing teeth is your ability to eat certain foods. You may find yourself looking at a menu to decide on the foods you ‘can’ eat rather than the foods you ‘want’ to eat.

Depending on where your missing teeth were located, you may have to change your diet. We use our teeth to tear, shred and grind up our food. For instance, consuming meat may become a problem because it involves a lot of chewing with the back teeth. Biting into a crisp, whole apple may not be possible if you are missing your front teeth. You may find you do not chew well enough and what is swallowed is difficult to digest.

Dr Nigel Saynor, Bramcote Implant Centre comments, “As a consequence, people become reluctant to go to social functions for fear of embarrassment, being the last to finish a meal or being too relaxed after a glass or two of their favourite tipple.”

Speech problems

Your speech can be affected by gaps in your teeth. Pronouncing some words clearly may be difficult if you have lost certain teeth. You might make whistling sounds when you speak and you may also find that you spit when you talk.

We produce sounds necessary for speech with the help of our tongue moving and pressing on our teeth and the roof of our mouth. When you are missing teeth your tongue cannot make contact with them and your speech can be altered.

Facial structure changes

Your teeth and gums provide part of the natural support and structure for your face. Just think how someone looks before and after removing dentures. Missing only a few of your teeth can dramatically affect the appearance of your face and cheeks.

Another complication of missing teeth is bone resorption. When bone resorbs, the jaw contours tend to shrink, resulting in wrinkled lips and a sunken mouth and face. This can make you appear older.

Natural teeth are embedded in the jawbone, and bone is stimulated by chewing and biting. When you lose teeth, the jawbone no longer receives the necessary stimulation and begins to resorb (shrink).

Bone needs stimulation to maintain its form and density. After the loss of a tooth the width and height of the bone decreases over the coming years.

Bone resorption, malocclusion and overeruption may recur with your remaining teeth. Over many years this can lead to more tooth loss and eventually edentulism (toothlessness).

What are my options to replace missing teeth?

If you’ve lost or had a tooth removed it’s important to consider filling any gaps between the teeth straight away. There are many methods for replacing a missing tooth.

Bridges — A typical bridge consists of a filler tooth that is attached to two adjacent crowns. The bridge is then bonded into the mouth.

The disadvantages are that teeth supporting the bridge have to be shaved down, to prepare them. These teeth also receive more pressure and stress, which can make them weaker and more susceptible to decay.

Unfortunately, bone loss can still occur under the bridge and plaque build up is common below the margins of the crowns. All of these factors are a potential risk to the longer term survival of these teeth.

Dentures — Dentures are removable appliances for spaces where teeth used to be. They are made from metal and acrylic plastic. Plastic dentures rest on gum, while those made of metal are supported by some or all remaining natural teeth.

Partial dentures are used when some natural teeth remain and complete dentures are used when all the teeth are missing.

Wearers need to be mindful that dentures rarely fit perfectly first time. They are unlikely to feel natural straight away, especially if your mouth is healing after having a tooth extracted.

They can be uncomfortable. Suction, adhesive and the muscles in your tongue and cheeks play a part in holding your dentures in place. Mouth and gums can become tired and dentures can rock and move when you are eating.

Dr Victoria Holden, The Briars Dental Practice, Newbury says, “Some people need to use fixatives to keep their dentures in place. They can also encourage food to get caught around teeth and this can lead to an increased risk of decay and gum disease.”

Dentures cover the roof of your mouth so unfortunately affect the ability to taste food and are likely to alter speech.

Dr Waseem Noordin, The Park Dental Practice, London believes, “Wearing a denture would also affect your taste perception, feel and texture of food.”

Like bridges, bone loss will still occur under a denture. Gradually, as bone and tissue shrink the dentures may become loose and could require replacing regularly. They are usually best worn as a temporary arrangement only.

The benefits of dental teeth implants

Dental implants feel and function like real teeth. They are the next best thing to healthy, natural teeth.

Dental implants are permanent replacements for failing or missing tooth roots. They are the only method of replacing the whole tooth. This is achieved by using titanium supports in place of the root beneath replacement teeth, such as crowns, bridges and dentures. You can use implants to replace a single tooth or several teeth.

The dental implant is inserted into the jaw and usually left to fuse with the jaw bone before a false tooth is fitted. This process is called osseointegration. It produces a secure bond between the tooth and the surrounding bone.

If your mouth has shrunk because of loss of bone and can no longer support dentures, tooth implants are usually your only choice to maintain normal oral function. Once implants are in place they are the only dental treatment option that actually preserves bone and stimulates natural bone growth, preventing shrinkage and loss.

Your healthy teeth are protected by implants. Tooth implants don’t impact on existing teeth and prevent them from shifting into an empty space left by a missing tooth.

Implants can restore the ability to eat and taste your favourite foods without hesitation. They are fixed in place and fuse naturally with your jaw, so you can talk, smile and laugh with as much confidence as having natural teeth.

Dental implants are an investment in your oral health

Teeth implants can last a lifetime when expertly fitted and properly cared for. They are a long-term, strong and stable solution for people with missing teeth.

Implants have a track record of successful outcomes. They are considered a reliable, predictable choice for patients. Nowadays, more and more dentists are recommending dental implants as the preferred option for replacing missing teeth.

Dr Pearse Stinson, Beechview Dental Practice, Belfast concludes, “Tooth loss can be life-changing. Appearance, speech, self respect and dignity all suffer, with different people majoring on different aspects. It can be heart-breaking for friends and relatives to watch someone close withdraw from various facets of life.”

No one but you and your dentist will have to know that you have teeth implants. They enable the restoration of a natural smile improving comfort and confidence. For many dental problems, implant treatment is increasingly the patient’s preferred option.

Treatment is tailored to the individual. It will depend on the number of teeth you have lost, where teeth are missing and your overall oral health. Your dentist will help you decide which option suits you.

To find out more about dental implants, click here.

Arrange a free exploratory consultation about dental implants to replace missing teeth — click here

This article was written with advice from:

Dr Raj Ahlowalia

Dr Graham Browning

Dr Azad Eyrumlu

Dr Victoria Holden

Dr Steve Larcombe

Dr Waseem Noordin

Dr Mark Robotham

Dr Nigel Saynor

Dr Pearse Stinson

Dr Lucy Stock

Dr.Steve Laracombe