The Risks of Not Replacing Teeth

You know the phrase, “They don’t know what they’re missing”? We use it when people think they are in good shape because they do not realize how much better things could be. That phrase applies perfectly to missing teeth!

The American College of Prosthodontists estimates that 178 million Americans are missing at least one tooth. Many people choose not to replace a missing tooth because they do not understand the risks that arise from such a situation. This blog will highlight the problems that can occur when a missing tooth is not replaced.

Impaired Chewing Ability

The “normal” number of teeth for a human to have is 32, which includes four wisdom teeth. So most adults have at least 28 teeth, allowing them to properly chew food. What many do not realize is how vital each and every tooth is to your chewing ability. We have several different types of teeth that perform different functions. Missing even just one tooth changes the way you chew.

Man holding burger with bite in it
A missing tooth can dramatically affect your ability to chew properly.

In order to break up food properly, you must have an upper tooth positioned to grind against a lower tooth. Missing one tooth makes the tooth above or below it worthless, as far as chewing goes. Chewing food well requires a certain amount of surface area where teeth touch. Losing a tooth reduces the amount of surface area you have for grinding food, so your chewing function suffers.

Increased Risk for Tooth Fractures

Our jaws are able to produce a certain amount of force with the muscles that close the teeth together. This force should be evenly distributed among the teeth. Losing a tooth creates a problem because the jaws can still create the same amount of pressure.

Now there are fewer teeth to bear that same amount of force, so each individual tooth has to bear more of the chewing burden than before. This causes you to put some teeth under pressures too high for them to withstand. The result: they crack.

Cracked teeth are very complicated. Cracks can be minor, requiring only a small dental filling to repair. They can also be extensive, running down the root of the tooth, which cannot be repaired at all. These teeth require extraction. This is how one missing tooth can lead to more missing teeth!

Gum Loss

A very common consequence of losing a tooth is gum loss on the neighboring teeth. Without pressure between the teeth, the gum tissue slowly recedes down the tooth’s root. Once gums recede, they cannot move back to their correct position on their own. Repairing gum recession requires gum surgery.

Gum recession exposes the root of the tooth. Enamel is the tooth’s protective covering, and there is no enamel covering the root. This allows sensations like hot, cold and sweet sensitivity to reach the nerve inside the tooth. Most tooth sensitivity is caused by gum recession.

Bone Loss

The purpose of the jawbones is to support teeth. Unfortunately, that is their only purpose. When a tooth is missing, the jawbone in that location progressively shrinks. It gets shorter top-to-bottom, and it gets narrower in width.

This bone shrinkage weakens the structure of the jaw over time. It could also prevent your ability to replace the missing tooth in the future. If you are considering a dental implant to replace a missing tooth, you do not have an unlimited time frame. The more bone loss you experience, the less likely you are to be a candidate for dental implants.

Teeth Shifting

Missing tooth causing shifting teeth
It’s practically guaranteed that if you don’t replace a missing tooth, the surrounding teeth will shift to close to the gap.

The position of each tooth in our mouth is largely determined by the teeth around it. Most people do not know that teeth are in a constant state of microscopic movement. They shift in response to chewing forces and have a “shock absorber” ligament that allows these tiny movements within the jawbone. The pressure of an adjacent tooth and the force of a tooth biting against it are what keeps a tooth in place.

Over time, the teeth around a missing tooth space will begin to shift and droop or lean into the gap. An upper tooth will drift downward into the empty space created by a missing lower tooth. The teeth in front of and behind the space will tip into the empty space. This leads to gaps between the teeth and areas that collect food when you eat.

Bite Changes

Those same shiftings can also lead to changes in the bite. As the teeth move into an empty space, and as you adjust the way you chew, the way your teeth bite together changes. You may notice certain areas on your teeth touching where they did not touch before. You may feel more pressure between the teeth on one side than the other.

These bite changes may cause issues in your jaw joints (TMJ). Our bodies are relatively symmetrical, and when we function asymmetrically (i.e. chewing with only one side of the mouth), our joints are affected.

Cosmetic Changes to Your Face

Elderly woman with white hair
Missing teeth can even cause changes to the appearance of your face!

One of the lesser-known risks of not replacing missing teeth is the change in your appearance without smiling. Another function of teeth is to support the lips and cheeks from the inside. Areas of missing teeth, especially multiple missing teeth in a row, can create a sunken look in the cheeks and lips. Missing all of the back teeth allows the jaws to collapse, which brings the upper and lower jaw together and makes the face look shorter with more wrinkles.

It’s not just about the smile. Missing teeth can affect your face!

Are You Missing a Tooth?

If you are missing one or more teeth and would like to learn more about replacing them, call our office today to schedule a consultation! We will discuss the risks associated with your specific missing tooth and the options you have to replace it, such as dental implants.