Why You Shouldn't Ignore a Missing Tooth

Did you know about 120 million adults in the U.S. are missing at least one tooth? If you’re one of those people, you know how upsetting it can be to lose a tooth, whether it’s from an accident, decay, gum disease, or some other cause. When a tooth is missing, especially a front “visible” tooth, it can affect the way your entire smile looks, leaving you feeling self-conscious and less confident. Most people have those visible front teeth tended to right away with implants or dentures, so they can restore their smiles and feel better about the way they look. When it comes to back teeth, though, it’s often a different story. Since molars are less visible, many people are reluctant to have them replaced. The same is true for lower canines that might not be as visible as your upper teeth.

That kind of approach might seem like the budget-conscious move to make. After all, why replace a tooth if no one — except for you — can tell it’s missing? And when it comes to molars, you’ve got other back teeth to pick up the slack, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the way teeth work, and that's not the way oral health works, either. Your teeth are designed to “work” in specific ways, and when one tooth is missing, it can cause a lot of problems. If you delay replacing a missing tooth — no matter where it’s located — you leave yourself open to significantly increased risks of decay, gum disease, and even additional tooth loss. Here’s why.

Missing teeth and bite mechanics

As adults, we have 32 teeth — 16 up top and 16 down below. Our upper and lower teeth are “matched up” in pairs. When we bite and chew, those pairs line up to create what’s called our bite pattern. As long as our upper and lower teeth are paired up, the mechanics of chewing and biting — our bite mechanics — are fine. But when one of those teeth is missing, the pairing is disrupted, and that can throw off our bite mechanics, too. It might not sound like a big deal, but when our bite is “off” even by a tiny fraction, it can put a surprising amount of pressure and strain on our jaw joints. And over time, that can lead to a painful condition called temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ. People with TMJ suffer from a range of issues, including chronic jaw pain, persistent headaches, uneven tooth wear, and increased risks of tooth decay and gum recession, both of which can lead to additional tooth loss.

That’s not all. People with an uneven bite balance are also more prone to tooth grinding (also called bruxism). Lots of people grind their teeth during their sleep, which means you could be putting hundreds of pounds of pressure on your teeth every night and not even know it. Like TMJ, bruxism can cause a lot of jaw and facial pain, and it can also contribute to tooth wear and gum disease. Plus, an uneven bite balance can alter the way you chew food, placing more pressure on the teeth on the other side of your mouth and making them more prone to serious damage.

The domino effect

There’s another way a single missing tooth can cause serious oral health problems. When a tooth is missing, it leaves a gap between the neighboring teeth.  Without a replacement tooth to keep them “in line,” those neighboring teeth can start to lean into that open space. As they lean, their roots can shift and weaken, leaving them prone to gum disease. And that means they’re much more likely to fall out. When they do, they create new gaps or spaces, which means more teeth become vulnerable to gum disease and root weakening. And the cycle continues, creating what’s commonly referred to as the “domino effect” of tooth loss.

It’s not just the neighboring teeth that are at risk, either. Since your teeth work in pairs, when an upper or lower tooth is gone, the paired tooth can start to shift and drift out of its pocket, exposing more of its root. As with the teeth on either side of the gap, that means that upper or lower paired-off tooth is also at increased risk of disease and loss. 

Lots of replacement options

At Cityview Dental Arts, we offer state-of-the-art solutions for patients with one or more missing teeth, including dental implants, bridges, and dentures, all designed to improve bite mechanics and overall oral health, in addition to restoring your beautiful smile. If you’re missing one or more teeth, let us help you prevent even more serious problems in your future. To learn more about the tooth replacement options we offer, book an appointment online today.

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