Missing Teeth – Causes, Associated Problems and Treatment Options

Do you have missing teeth? Worried about how best to replace them? Before we look at treatment options, let’s look at the causes and possible consequences of not replacing lost teeth.

All of us lose our baby teeth during the transition of our dentition to permanent replacements, from the ages of around 6 to 12. This article will focus more on missing permanent teeth. You will see that the issue of gaps in the mouth is not just a cosmetic one, but also a functional problem.

 

Missing permanent teeth causes

Apart from the normal process of baby tooth loss, the various other causes of missing teeth are:

Image of a missing tooth

A missing front tooth like this is best replaced with a bridge or single implant

  • Dental decay – Leave a cavity untreated for long enough and it will destroy the tooth
  • Gum/periodontal disease – The leading cause of tooth loss in adults
  • Trauma – Incisors are particularly at risk, eg with contact sports
  • Congenitally missing teeth – Sometimes certain teeth (most commonly the wisdom teeth, lateral insicors and second premolars/bicuspids) do not form in the first place (oligodontia, hypodontia), either isolated or in connection with medical problems…
  • Medical conditions like ectodermal dysplasia, Down’s syndrome etc. Genetics can therefore have an input.

 

Missing teeth problems

Apart from the obvious cosmetic outcome, what other problems can result from tooth loss? Why should you get any gaps ‘filled’? The various consequences of not replacing them can be:

  • The jaws may not “bite” together properly, thus affecting the function of mastication/chewing
  • Pain in the facial muscles/jaws due to an improper bite
  • Difficulty with speech
  • Aesthetically unpleasing as the facial muscles may ‘sag’ and gaps in the teeth might appear unsightly
  • Tilting of adjacent teeth into the space vacated by the missing ones – can make things harder to clean
  • Supra-eruption of the opposing tooth into the space (ie a top tooth drifts down as there is nothing below to stop it doing so)
  • Food entrapment and plaque accumulation in the gaps leading to more decay and gum disease
  • Last but not the least; your confidence might take a beating because of the change in appearance.

Note that not all lost teeth need necessarily be replaced. There are some occasions (eg loss of a very back tooth) when no treatment is best. But on the most part, it is better to have any areas of lost dentition restored.

 

image of missing back teeth

Large gaps at the back of the mouth will need restored with dentures or implants

Replacing Missing Teeth – The Options

 

 

There are various replacement options available and these are best decided in consultation with your dentist. The treatment option most suitable for you would depend on the condition of your gums, remaining dentition and the bone levels.

Your dentist would carry out a thorough examination and ask for some x-rays before deciding on the best treatment strategy for you. In general, one of the following alternatives will be offered to you:

Image of a dental implant

An implant, unlike a bridge, is independent of any remaining teeth.

  • Dentures: These are removable and of two types. They can be either partial (where some teeth remain) or complete dentures. As they can be taken in and out, and may move somewhat – these are generally the least favorable option. But for some patients, perhaps due to financial limitations – they may be the only choice. A flipper, for example, is the fastest and cheapest choice. Read more on dentures here.
  • Fixed Bridges: A dental bridge is used to restore gaps with the support of the remaining adjacent teeth, which act as anchors. Bridges are fixed by the dentist by using cement and cannot be removed by patients. They can be made up of various materials like white metal, ceramic fused to metal and metal free ceramics. Bridges are custom made and restore the natural contour of the smile as well as proper bite relation of upper and lower teeth. Read more here.
  • Implants: The latest solution for replacing a lost tooth is a dental implant. They are an almost natural replacement for lost teeth, in terms of how they are anchored, look and feel in the mouth. They are synthetic structures made of titanium to be placed in the area once occupied by the root of the missing tooth. Implants are anchored to the jaw bone and act as a foundation for an artificial crown, bridge or denture. We have lots more advice on implants here.

To know more details about the various ‘false teeth’ options, and what is best for your needs, please consult your dentist for professional guidance and treatment.

 

Summary

As a general rule, prevention is better than cure. So take care of your smile by regular, proper brushing and flossing, prevent trauma by using protective gear while playing contact sports, and visit your dentist once in 6 months for a check-up.

But if you are reading this, already having missing teeth – We have lots of advice on the options available to treat the problem. Just click on the links in the paragraph above.

A popular article that may be of help is this one – Implants vs bridges

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