Just a generation or two ago, it was normal for older adults to be missing a few teeth. Lack of fluoridation, sub par dental care, and the typical wear and tear of life meant teeth got infected or chipped, loosened or got knocked out. If you were lucky, you replaced them with a bridge or, if you were missing a lot of them, then you were fitted for dentures, but overall, tooth loss was as common as bumps and bruises or a broken arm. It was just something that happened, but today missing teeth are less common.
Today, when someone loses a permanent tooth, the most common course of action is to see a cosmetic dentist for an implant placement. Placed directly into the jawbone, dental implants blend in with the natural teeth, allowing for the best possible appearance and function. More importantly, dental implants offer a number of valuable health benefits that simply accepting tooth loss or relying on dentures cannot.
Maintains Existing Teeth
When a dentist places a bridge to replace one or more missing teeth, they have to anchor the bridge to the teeth on either side of it. Unfortunately, in order to place a bridge, the dentist generally has to shave away some of the enamel and reshape the anchoring teeth so that the bridge fits properly. This isn’t a major intervention on its own, but removing even some enamel means making those ones more vulnerable to damage down the line, including cavities and abscesses. It’s better to leave healthy teeth intact, which implants allow for.
Another advantage of placing permanent dental implants rather than leaving an open space or opting for a bridge is that implants will make you less vulnerable to gum disease, relatively speaking. That’s because bridges sit at gum level and are cemented into place in various way, depending on the style, which can make the area harder to clean. Implants, on the other hand, are maintained with the same basic brushing and flossing practices you would use to care for your natural teeth. And since gum disease can cause you to lose more of them, placing a bridge can actually cause a dangerous chain reaction in an already vulnerable mouth.
Protects Jaw Integrity
If you’ve ever seen someone who has lost most of their tooth, you may have noticed that the lower half of their face seems to have lost its shape. That’s because missing teeth are associated with progressive bone loss, a result of overall periodontal disease. According to Dr. Bret Dyer, implants help prevent this bone loss and retain facial shape because placing an implant involves screwing a titanium post directly into the jaw bone. Over time, it fuses with the bone. This helps ensure normal pressure on the jaw, which can prevent the need for bone grafting later on.
Ensures Complete Nutrition
Any type of oral pain, from a cold sore to a cavity, can make it harder to eat normally, but missing teeth are the worst of all because they don’t just cause discomfort, they also represent a functional problem. In particular, missing teeth make it hard to chew crunchy or sinewy foods, though exactly which teeth you’re missing will determine what kind of problems you have.
Of course, if you’re only missing one or two, you’ll likely be able to compensate with other teeth, but once you’re missing several, you may need to significantly modify your diet – and that can mean missing out on important nutrients. However, by placing implants where you’ve lost teeth, you’ll be able to eat normally, unhindered by loose fitting dentures or bridges.
In a healthy mouth with all of its teeth intact, the upper and lower parts of the jaw should closely line up, creating an even bite. And, when they don’t meet properly, we typically fit people with braces or other orthodontia to shift the jaw into a more appropriate position. As soon as you begin losing teeth, however, those gaps allow the neighboring teeth to loosen and move around, which can cause your entire bite to be compromised.
An uneven bite can be uncomfortable and can cause an array of other oral health problems, such as jaw pain and gum disease, but luckily, the dentist can assess and correct for bite problems when placing dental implants. Specifically, they’ll look at how the existing teeth meet, evaluate the wear pattern, and take steps to place and shape your implants for the most natural possible bite.
Consider The Confidence Boost
In the United States, having “bad teeth” is associated with poverty; some have gone so far as to call teeth “luxury bones” because of how oral health is overlooked by conventional medicine. That’s unfortunate for a number of reasons, not least of which being that a lot of tooth loss could be prevented by more widely accessible dental care, but in particular it means that many people experience poor self-confidence and the associated mental health effects because of what is fundamentally a cosmetic issue.
Getting dental implants is an expensive fix for poor self-confidence, but if you’re missing out on your life because you feel anxious or depressed about the state of your teeth, it’s a worthwhile undertaking. You deserve to fully participate in your life, and while missing teeth may not be a physical impediment, it can be a mental block. Given the concomitant health problems, however, as long as you can afford implants, it’s worth pursuing them.
Pursuing Dental Implants
Placing dental implants can take the better part of a year from start to finish, so if you’re considering pursuing placement, it’s worth starting that conversation now. Though often referred to as restorative dentistry, it’s important to recognize that getting dental implants is not a purely cosmetic pursuit. Especially if you’ve suffered dental disease or trauma that has caused you to lose some of your permanent teeth at a young age, they can offer critical health benefits. Sure, your smile helps you make a good impression, but it does a lot more than that. Make it a priority.