Sharks have all the luck. Not only do they get to swim around all day in the beautiful blue ocean, snacking on just about whatever their hearts desire, but if they wind up losing a tooth somewhere along the line, they can just grow a new one to replace it. In fact, just one single shark can grow hundreds of teeth in its lifetime — and they’re not the only ones with this amazing ability. Crocodiles, alligators, geckos and lots of other reptiles (and many fish) can all replenish their missing teeth. For humans, it’s a far different story.
About 36 million people in the U.S. are missing at least one adult tooth. And unlike those animal relatives, we can’t regrow them — once a tooth is gone, it’s gone for good. But the good news is that we can replace teeth with strong, natural-looking dentures, bridges and implants. Unfortunately, far too often, many of us decide not to replace a missing tooth, especially if it’s located farther back in the mouth, out of view when we’re smiling or talking. That may seem like a sound decision. But when you don’t replace a tooth that’s missing, you can significantly increase your risks of developing more serious problems in the future, including additional tooth loss that can impair the way you eat and talk. If you’re missing a tooth, here’s why it’s so very important to invest in a good replacement.
How one missing tooth leads to many
The consequences of tooth loss are often described as a “domino effect.” That’s because losing just one tooth can lead to additional tooth loss — and it can happen fairly quickly. When a tooth is missing, it creates a gap between the neighboring teeth — not just above the gum, but in the root space as well. The neighboring teeth can “sense” the empty space beside them, and in a surprisingly short space of time, those teeth roots will start to wander into the empty area. As they shift, the root structure weakens and the entire tooth can become loose. That means this tooth is also far more likely to fall out, creating additional gaps that threaten the teeth on either side of those spaces. This is what’s called the domino effect — the cascade of events that occurs when one tooth is lost.
Of course, as each neighboring tooth shifts, it also widens the space that separates it from its neighbor. The new gap, though small, makes it a lot easier for plaque, tartar and decay to creep in, increasing the risk of gum disease, the leading cause of adult tooth loss in the U.S. And it’s not just neighboring teeth that are affected. Our teeth are designed to work in pairs, with each upper tooth “matched” to a corresponding lower tooth. When one goes missing, pressure on the matched tooth is also gone, leaving that tooth to shift and weaken as well.
Jaw pain and headaches
An increased risk for additional tooth loss is just one consequence of not replacing a missing tooth. Since our teeth work in pairs, when one tooth is lost, it can throw off your entire bite balance. As the balance shifts, it puts more pressure on other teeth and other areas of your mouth, often without your even realizing it.
Over time, differences in muscle strain can affect your jaw joints, causing significant jaw and facial pain and chronic headaches. Untreated tooth loss can cause temporomandibular joint disorder, a chronic condition that can result in ongoing painful symptoms, in addition to affecting the way you bite, chew and even speak.
Don’t let a missing tooth affect your health
As serious as these issues sound, they can be prevented simply by replacing that missing tooth as soon as you possibly can with a state-of-the-art implant, denture or bridge. At Chester Family Dentistry, we can help you find the tooth replacement option that works best for your needs, your preferences and your budget. To learn more about the options we offer or to discuss other treatment options that can help you maintain optimal oral health, book an appointment online today.