Tooth loss is an abnormal loss of one or more of the permanent teeth. It does not include loss of primary or milk teeth in children. Missing teeth can affect the functions of the mouth such as chewing or talking. It also affects the aesthetic appearance, thereby, lowering the self-esteem of the person.
There are several causes for tooth loss which include:
- Gum disease is the primary cause for loose teeth and tooth loss. Usually, a gum disease is painless and thus it is difficult to diagnose. Initial symptoms of gum disease include swelling and redness of the gums, bleeding with brushing and soreness.
- Poor oral hygiene such as lack of regular brushing and flossing of teeth can lead to tooth decay. Over a period, this produces cavities (holes) that weaken the roots of the teeth and cause them to fall off.
- Tooth loss may also occur with excess sugar intake in the diet which leads to tooth decay or weaken the enamel coating on the tooth. Certain acidic foods such as pickles, citrus fruits, orange juice, etc. can lead to the erosion of the teeth.
- Use of certain drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine can trigger the release of acids in the body which can affect the teeth and cause tooth loss. Certain medicines used for blood pressure management or certain chemotherapeutic medicines can also affect the oral health and cause tooth loss.
- Presence of gaps between the teeth causes food to get stuck in the gap and thereby, promote tooth decay or gum disease.
- Tooth loss can also occur with an injury of the tooth due to accidental falls or while playing sports.
Tooth loss is usually seen in older people aged above 35 years of age. However, some younger people may also have tooth loss. The front teeth are more commonly lost due to gum diseases when compared to the back teeth. Some of the avoidable and non-avoidable risk factors for tooth loss are listed:
- Male gender
- Lack of professional dental care
- Not using toothbrush
- Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis
- Use of teeth as tools to open lids, crack nuts, loosen knots or other such activities
- A family history of hypodontia (missing of teeth during development)
Sometimes, it is possible to implant the permanent tooth that is lost by taking the below measures before going to the dentist:
- Handle the tooth carefully by holding the crown while not touching the root which is helpful for reattaching the tooth.
- Check the crown and root of the tooth to see if there are any fractures or missing portions. Presence of sharp or shiny surfaces on the tooth is an indication that a part of the root is in its socket which makes it difficult to successfully reimplant the tooth.
- Do not scrape the debris out of the tooth as it can damage the roots.
- To remove the debris or dirt, gently rinse the tooth in a bowl of lukewarm water for not more than 10 seconds. Avoid putting the tooth under running water as an exposure to excess of pure water can kill the root cells.
- Try to put the lost tooth back in its socket either by gently biting it down on gauze or a moist paper towel to keep it in place.
- If it is not possible to put the tooth back in its socket, then place it in warm, mild salt water or in between the gum and cheek.
- Go for emergency dental care within 2 hours after the tooth has fallen out.
Replacement of the missing teeth is possible with the following treatment procedures:
- Use of partial dentures
- Bridging the gaps between the tooth by using false teeth
- Use of dental implants especially after the extraction of the damaged teeth
In children, space maintainers may be recommended to help in the uniform placing of the upcoming teeth.
Some of the measures which can help to prevent a tooth loss are as follows:
- Brushing the teeth twice daily and flossing between the teeth at least once everyday
- Changing the brush for every 2-3 months
- Going for regular dental checkups
- Quitting smoking
- Eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals while avoiding excess of sugary foods