Leading Causes of Tooth Loss
The leading cause of tooth loss in adults is gum disease, followed by cavities and physical injury.
Tooth loss is a common problem that becomes more prevalent as we get older. The American College of Prosthodontists1 (ACP) estimates that:
- 178 million people in the U.S. have lost at least one tooth.
- 40 million are missing all their teeth.
- 30 percent of adults aged 65 to 74 have no natural teeth.
How Gum Disease Causes Tooth Loss
Typically a result of poor oral hygiene, gum disease2 is a chronic infection caused by plaque, which carries harmful bacteria and causes inflammation in the tissues that support teeth.
The first stage of gum disease is gingivitis. If it progresses to full-blown periodontal disease, it can destroy gums and the underlying jaw bone. Without this support, teeth can become loose and fall out, or require extraction.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research3 (NIDCR), periodontal disease chiefly affects people once they reach their 30s or 40s.
The American College of Prosthodontists4 says up to 20 percent of people aged 33 to 44 have some form of gum disease.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
You may not realize your gums are infected during the early stages of gum disease, which may be pain-free. However, here are some signs that you may have a problem with your gums:
- Loose teeth, as infection takes hold beneath your gums, causing deep pockets between your gums and teeth.
- Persistent bad breath (halitosis), the result of bacteria secreting toxins.
- Receding gums, when the soft tissue around your teeth peels back.
- Bleeding gums, caused by inflammation.
Other symptoms of gum disease include mouth sores, tooth sensitivity, pus around the gums and teeth, and a change in bite function.
Gum Disease Risk Factors
Certain factors may put you at greater risk of gum disease. These include:
- Medications that impair the production of saliva, which is essential to wash away the bacteria that cause gum disease.
- Smoking, which greatly increases the risk of gum disease, and can also lessen the likelihood of successful treatment.
- A poor diet, which may compromise your immune system.
Some medical conditions – and their treatments – can also affect the health of your gums, including cancer, diabetes, and AIDS.
Cavities and Tooth Loss
Second in the list of leading causes of tooth loss are cavities, which result from decay as tooth enamel is softened by acids created when the bacteria in plaque break down sugar in your mouth.
Although enamel is the hardest substance in the body, it’s still vulnerable to damage, and the loss of its mineral content through decay can result in a hole (cavity) in the tooth, which can grow larger with time and lead to destruction of the entire tooth.
This happens when the acids that plaque produce also erode the softer underlying layers of a tooth – dentin, and pulp – causing a root cavity that can expose nerves, resulting in pain when eating or drinking.
Symptoms of Tooth Decay and Cavities
Besides discomfort from pronounced tooth sensitivity, other symptoms of tooth decay and cavities include:
- A noticeable hole in a tooth, although sometimes cavities are only visible with the help of an X-ray or digital imaging.
- General toothache or pain when biting down.
- Pus around a tooth.
- Black, gray or brown spots on a tooth.
- Bad breath.
- Bad taste in the mouth.
Tooth Decay Risk Factors
Anyone can get a cavity resulting from tooth decay but you’re at greater risk if you:
- Fail to maintain a good routine of oral hygiene.
- Consume a lot of sugar-rich foods and drinks.
- Have dry mouth (xerostomia).
- Have weak tooth enamel due to childhood illness or genetics.
Injuries That Cause Tooth Loss
Most injuries that cause tooth loss are sports-related or sustained in traffic collisions, falls, or through physical assault. The teeth most vulnerable are your incisors – the eight sharp, thin, front teeth designed for cutting through food.
Although most dental injuries are minor – resulting in chipped teeth – a tooth may suffer sufficient physical impact to knock it out instantly or might be fractured beneath the gumline, typically requiring extraction.
Incidents that can lead to tooth loss include:
- Traffic accidents involving motor vehicles or non-motor vehicles like bicycles.
- Sports injuries, particularly in contact sports.
- Tripping over.
Why It’s Vital to Replace Missing Teeth
Each tooth plays a key role in the structure of your mouth, enabling you to talk and eat properly. Leaving a gap after tooth loss can pose several problems, such as:
- Difficulty in eating certain foods, which can lead to malnutrition or digestive disorders.
- Speech impediments.
- Gum recession.
- Loss of jaw bone density.
- Embarrassment about your appearance.
Your Options After Tooth Loss
The American Dental Association5(ADA) says artificial teeth are designed to last for years, so it’s important to choose the tooth replacement system that’s best for you – dentures, bridges on implants.
Without the stimulation of a tooth root, the bone that supported a tooth can begin to deteriorate in the same way muscle tissue atrophies without use. Traditional dentures and bridges can’t fix this problem, because they don’t replace tooth roots.
However, dental implants6 preserve the integrity of the jaw bone by replacing the entire structure of a missing tooth, including the root. Implants can be used instead of – or as a support for – dentures and bridges, and can replace one tooth, several teeth, or all your teeth.
Statistics from the American Dental Association for 2014 show that 19 percent of implants fitted by general dentists failed. However, ¬the overall success rate for dental implants is high – up to 98 percent – chiefly because most dental implant treatment is carried out by skilled dental surgeons.