If you have children I’m sure you’ll agree that they look especially cute when they lose their front baby teeth and give you a big grin. Even cuter when their missing teeth makes them lisp! On the other hand it’s anything but cute when an adult loses a tooth and gives you a crooked smile. More nightmare causing stuff than endearing appeal!
While the number of adults suffering tooth loss during their lifetime has steadily decreased, there are still 14% of UK adults with less than 21 natural teeth (you should have 32), and 74% of adults have had a tooth extracted. In many cases this is entirely preventable.
Unlike with milk teeth there is no milestone in an adult’s live that causes a natural loss of teeth. You may think that it’s inevitable that when you reach a certain age teeth start to drop out and dentures or ‘falsies’ are needed. But this is not the case. Although the rate of tooth loss in adults is higher in older generations, their tooth loss is not necessary a symptom of old age. Instead it can be because of poor dental hygiene or allowing dental problems to progress without treatment.
Common Reasons For Adult Tooth Loss
Tooth loss in adults is usually down to one of the following reasons:
Accidents: Accidents are generally not preventable and unfortunately people do lose teeth when they’re involved in car accidents, or they fall over, or perhaps walk into something. The impact of an accident might not knock teeth out immediately but can loosen them so they need to be removed later.
Misuse: There are certain things your teeth are really not designed to do. Opening metal bottle caps is example of this, but people still do it. Grinding your teeth is also something that causes undue stress on your teeth that can cause loosening and ultimately teeth to fall out or need to be extracted. If you are aware that you grind your teeth, have a habit of clenching your jaw, or you treat your teeth badly by using them for things other than biting and chewing food, you should try to stop.
Non-Dental Diseases: Certain diseases, and their treatment, can also make patients more vulnerable to tooth loss. Diabetes, autoimmune conditions, cancers and so forth may increase the risk of tooth loss and therefore patients should monitor their dental health closely to minimise this risk where possible.
Gum Disease: Yes, gum disease is the major culprit in preventable tooth loss. Since most adults will suffer mild gum disease at some point in their lives, it’s perhaps not surprising that for a percentage of people this can become a more serious problem that results in tooth loss. Typically this is because people ignore the early symptoms of gum disease and allow it to progress to chronic periodontitis before seeking treatment.
How Does Gum Disease Cause Tooth Loss?
If mild gum disease (also know as gingivitis) is left untreated – plaque is allowed to build up, inflaming the gums – the infection can spread. Gums become severely infected by bacteria in the dental plaque, causing them to swell and detach from the teeth. This creates ‘pockets’ between the gum and tooth allowing bacteria to multiple and create more plaque below the gum line. As the infection progresses it can destroy other tissues around the teeth including the periodontal ligaments and bone that supports your teeth. Without sufficient support teeth become loose and the person is at risk of tooth loss.
Although scientists are working on methods to regenerate the damaged or lost bone and restore the tooth supporting structures to their natural state. Current treatment for severe periodontitis is mostly limited to tooth extraction.
How To Prevent Tooth Loss
While it is impossible to protect yourself from tooth loss as a result of an accident, there are ways you can reduce your risk of losing your teeth prematurely from other causes. For those with a higher risk of tooth loss because of chronic disease it is important to take advice on oral care. Tooth loss in this group is usually because of gum disease. You may need to take more preventative measures such as brushing teeth immediately after meals, keeping hydrated (some medications cause a dry mouth that is linked to gum disease), and having more frequent dental check ups.
For those people who grind their teeth or use them to pop the cap on bottles, you need to stop! A mouth guard may be necessary if you have bruxism (teeth grinding), but often treating the underlying cause is more effective – stress is a common culprit.
Finally, for everyone else who might be guilty of neglecting their teeth at times, a good oral health routine is needed. It’s the usual advice:
- Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste for at least two minutes each time,
- Make sure you brush all surfaces of each tooth by using interdental brushes to get in between teeth, and a GumSaver brush to remove bacteria from below the gum line,
- Floss regularly to ensure food particles are removed,
- Always brush last thing at night before you go to bed to prevent an excessive build up of plaque bacteria overnight,
- Treat mild gum disease by continuing to brush areas of inflammation (so you remove the bacteria), and by using a medicated mouthwash or natural alternative while the inflammation lasts,
- Give up smoking. Smokers have a higher risk of gum disease than non-smokers – a great reason to quit,
- Limit the amount of sugary food and drinks you consume, and don’t snack between meals,
- Book regular check ups with your dentist who will be able to spot any problems before they get worse,
- If you have any concerns, seek advice and treatment straightaway – don’t allow minor problems to turn into major ones.
Gaps definitely look cutest on children as the photo below illustrates!
If you have any questions about gum disease or other dental concerns please leave a comment below, or contact me directly.