We all experienced tooth loss when we were children. It’s easy to remember the initial shock and feeling of that first wiggly tooth, the days of waiting for it to fall out, and the excitement of receiving money from the Tooth Fairy. While losing teeth in childhood wasn’t scary, the same isn’t true when it happens as adults. At this stage, there is no other set of natural teeth ready to replace them. Loss of permanent teeth is permanent.
Depending upon one’s level of oral health, the loss of one or two permanent teeth may be compensated for with a dental implant or a bridge, which is a false tooth (called a pontic) that is held in place by dental crowns that have been cemented onto each of the abutment teeth. But when poor oral or overall general health undermines the foundation of your teeth, a domino effect is set into motion that eventually leads to partial or total tooth loss — a condition known as edentulism.
People can suffer from two types of edentulism — partial and complete. As VIPcare Dental notes, partial edentulism is when there is only partial tooth loss. Individuals affected by this type still have some of their natural teeth. Tooth loss is much more common on the upper jaw than on the lower jaw. Those who have lost all of their teeth have complete edentulism. Once people begin losing their teeth, there is no means to reverse the condition.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, over 25% of people ages 65 years or older, have lost all of their teeth. Not so long ago, the common assumption was that losing your teeth was an expected part of aging, and that everyone would eventually wear dentures. With advances in dental treatments and technology, this is no longer the case.
Because our NK Family Dental team wants you to enjoy good oral health for life, we’re providing this guide to the causes and risk factors of edentulism, as well as prevention measures.
What Causes Edentulism?
Edentulism has numerous causes. The following are the most common:
Poor oral care — The main reasons for tooth loss are periodontal (gum) disease and cavities. The better your oral hygiene and care, the better your likelihood of preventing edentulism. Periodontal disease begins with a build-up of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance that contains bacteria. This typically occurs from not flossing regularly, as well as not scheduling twice-yearly cleanings with your dentist. Periodontal disease affects the jaw bone, the tooth’s foundation. When weakened, teeth become loose and fall out or eventually have to be removed. Our blog post — “What is Periodontal Gum Disease?” — covers this topic in greater detail.
Tooth decay can cause permanent damage if left untreated, leading to the need for extraction. As with periodontal disease, plaque formation leads to cavities. Our blog post — “What You Need to Know About Tooth Decay” — covers this topic in greater detail
Osteoporosis — This is a bone disease that develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decreases, or when the structure and strength of bone changes. This can lead to a decrease in bone strength that can increase the risk of fractures (broken bones), as well as tooth loss, as the jaw bone is no longer able to sufficiently anchor the teeth.
Poor diet — A regular diet of fast food, sodas and sweets — combined with poor oral care habits — can set the stage for tooth decay. Poor nutrition is another factor. People who follow fad diets may become malnourished, not getting the nutrients they need to maintain good health, which can lead to periodontal disease.
Certain medications — Several prescription medications can have side effects that directly affect your oral health. For example, medications that result in a dry mouth can create a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. This can result in tooth decay, as well as periodontal disease.
Tobacco use and vaping — According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), smokers are twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop periodontal disease. The nicotine in tobacco and vaping products restricts blood flow throughout your body, which restricts tissues (including gum tissues) from receiving the oxygen they need for healthy replication and healing — which can lead to periodontal disease resulting in tooth loss. Our blog post — “How Smoking Affects Your Oral Health” — covers this topic in greater detail.
Risk Factors for Edentulism
The following factors increase your likelihood for edentulism:
Aging — According to Colgate, aging impacts every area of your health, and your teeth are no exception. “Even without any known medical problems, natural wear and attrition can cause gums to recede and teeth to become more vulnerable to decay.”
Genetics — Your genes also play a role in your oral health. If other people in your family have a history of losing their teeth, then you are also at risk of suffering from tooth loss. The American Dental Association (ADA) states that genetics can impact your oral health when combined with factors, such as diabetes and smoking.
Gender — As women undergo hormonal changes during menopause, they are at a higher risk of suffering from tooth loss due to osteoporosis brought on by a drop in estrogen levels.
Certain illnesses — Hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis may increase your chances of periodontal disease. According to the ADA, about 22% of people with diabetes develop periodontal disease. Diabetes reduces the ability of your body to heal and your resistance to infections. Our blog post — “Diabetes and Oral Health” — covers this topic in greater detail.
How to Prevent Edentulism and Keep Your Teeth for a Lifetime
Preventing edentulism means integrating everyday practices in your life that will promote better oral hygiene and health. Following a healthy lifestyle is key to achieving good overall and oral health! A poor diet is bad for both. Our blog post – “The Best And Worst Foods For A Healthy Smile” – covers the importance of a well-balanced, nutritious diet in supplying the nutrients that the body, bones, teeth and gums need to renew tissues and help fight infection and disease — including periodontal disease.
Following good oral hygiene practices is essential, and must be done consistently to be effective. The ADA recommends brushing twice daily – although once after every meal is better, as well as after a snack, if possible.
- Use a soft-bristle brush.
- Brush for at least two minutes, staying for 30 seconds in each quadrant of your mouth.
- Floss before and after brushing to remove food particles between teeth so that plaque-causing bacteria doesn’t have the opportunity to form.
- Gently scrape or brush your tongue and inside cheeks.
- Use a fluoride mouthwash for 20 seconds as a final rinse.
- Last, but definitely not least, your dentist is your partner in achieving and maintaining optimum health! Schedule twice-yearly examinations and cleanings – more, if your dentist advises in order to monitor a condition. Regular examinations allow the dentist to observe changes or conditions that need treatment before they become critical, and remove plaque that brushing alone can’t accomplish.
As we hope you’ve learned, age is not fate! Celebrating more birthdays doesn’t need to mean you will do it with fewer teeth! You can keep your natural smile for a long, wonderful lifetime by making good choices and taking good care of your teeth!
We understand that the main concern you may have in seeking dental care is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.
At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.
Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.