Missing Teeth: A Major Problem for Older Americans

According to the American Dental Association, adults between the ages of 20 and 64 are missing an average of three or more teeth. The statistics are worse for older Americans: The American College of Prosthodontists reports that more than 36 million Americans do not have any teeth at all and close to 23 million of these are 65 years or older. Of this geriatric population, there are two completely toothless adults for every one with teeth remaining.

Missing Teeth Cause More Than Cosmetic Problems

When a tooth is lost, especially in the back of the mouth, some choose not to replace it. The reasons can range anywhere from financial burdens to dental anxiety. It may seem like it doesn’t matter as long as the gap isn’t visible, but Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS M.S., of Pinnacle Oral Surgery Specialists says otherwise.

“When a tooth is lost, it’s imperative to replace it immediately,” he said. “If a gap is left, other teeth will begin to shift to fill the space and complications such as a misaligned bite, crooked teeth and even jaw bone loss can occur.”

Even the crooked teeth are not just a cosmetic problem, according to Pollock. When teeth overlap, it can be difficult to clean them properly, and they become much more at risk for decay.

Replacement Options for Missing Teeth

There are several options the ADA recommends when it comes to replacing missing teeth. The most common are dental bridges, dentures and implants. The best choice for each patient is completely dependent on that person’s individual situation, said Pollock.

“In most situations, if a patient is a good candidate for dental implants, meaning they have not experienced extensive jaw bone loss from years of missing the tooth or teeth, then implants are the best option,” he said.

According to Pollock, implants are the only tooth replacement option that replace the tooth all the way down to the root. This is more important than many people realize. Without the root of the tooth, the jaw bone stops receiving stimulation from chewing and, over time, begins to deteriorate from lack of use.

Without Teeth, the Jaw Bone Deteriorates  

This jaw bone recession happens a lot faster than one might expect. In fact, research shows that in the first year after a tooth is lost or extracted, 25 percent of the bone in that area is lost. Over time, this deterioration continues until a dental implant is no longer an option without a bone graft.

Even more shocking for many is how much facial support our jaw bones provide. Jaw bone loss can actually cause a patient to look older than they are, according to Pollock.

“The bone loss leads to the chin beginning to turn closer to the nose, which can create the appearance of sunken-in lips and a bigger nose,” he said. “In addition, the lack of support for the face from the jaw bone can create sagging skin and wrinkles, which only get worse as time goes on.”