“But It’s Just One Tooth”: How a Single Missing Tooth Can Lead to a Mouthful of Problems

Tooth loss in the U.S. is a serious health problem. In fact, the American College of Prosthodontists reports that about 178 million men and women are missing at least one tooth, and about 40 million adults have no natural teeth. Although tooth decay and trauma are responsible for some adult tooth loss, gum disease is by far the biggest cause - in fact, it’s the leading cause of tooth loss among American adults.

When a single tooth is lost, it’s tempting to ignore it, especially if it’s in the back and not easily visible. After all, once the tooth is lost, it won’t cause any more pain and it can’t become decayed or infected. Losing a single tooth usually doesn’t have a big impact on your ability to speak or eat. So why go through the hassle of getting an implant, denture or bridge? The fact is, even the loss of a single tooth can have a huge impact on your overall oral health if you don’t bother replacing it. Here’s why:

The “Domino Effect” of Tooth Loss

Your tooth roots serve as anchors to hold your teeth in place in the jaw bones. But they actually do much more than that. They actually help keep your jaw bones healthy. Like the bone cells in the rest of the body, jaw bone cells eventually get old and die, at which point they’re replaced by new, healthy bone cells. In your jaws, this bone replacement cycle is stimulated by pressure from the tooth roots. When a root is present, the bone “knows” it has to replace old cells in order to support the tooth.`  Once the root is gone, the bone cell replacement cycle stops in that area of the jaw bone, and eventually, the bone becomes thinner and weaker. Of course, since your teeth are located close together, bone atrophy in one area can result in root weakening in neighboring teeth, significantly increasing the risk that those teeth will also eventually fall out.

Dominos Fallen Over

Shifting Roots

But there’s more. When a tooth is lost, it leaves a gap. Over time, chewing, biting and just natural drift cause the teeth on either side of that gap to lean inward, creating additional forces that contribute to root weakening. As the teeth shift positions, the pockets of tissue around the roots can enlarge, making it much easier for bacteria to take hold - and once again, significantly increasing the risk of additional tooth loss.

Of course, once those neighboring teeth fall out, the whole process repeats, tooth by tooth, until most or all of the teeth have weakened and fallen out.

And there’s one more factor that can contribute to additional tooth loss. Your teeth are meant to work in pairs, with upper and lower teeth “matching up.” These pairing create your bite balance, and when one tooth is lost, that balance is thrown off. That means your teeth and subjected to uneven stresses that can contribute to grinding and clenching habits as well as uneven tooth loss and increased risks of decay and gum disease. And so the cycle continues.

You can prevent tooth loss.

It’s not a pretty picture, but there is some good news. Gum disease can be treated - and it can even be prevented. The key is to catch disease as early as possible, before it has a chance to cause widespread problems. And the way to do that is with twice-yearly dental visits and cleanings. If gum disease is discovered, deep-cleaning techniques can be used to gently remove bacteria that have invaded the space below the gums and around the tooth roots, helping teeth and their roots stay healthy and strong.

How long has it been since your last checkup and cleaning? If it’s been more than six months, now’s the time to call Dream Smile Dental at (781) 330-0900 and take that important step toward a healthier smile.

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Tagged: gum disease