While modern dentistry is helping us keep our teeth longer, it is a reality of life that our ability to keep all our teeth is more likely to diminish as we grow older.
Throughout our lives we use our teeth for some important activities, like eating, smiling and speaking. This daily use accumulates as dental wear, which tends to impact people later in life, and the impacts of other dental issues such as dental decay may also become more pronounced.
In this article, we take a look at four of the leading reasons for tooth loss, and the ways we can manage these impacts throughout life. The Australian Government have released the following data in their report “Oral Health & Dental Care in Australia“, which illustrates how age impacts the retention of our teeth, and can be accessed in the interactive display below!
Picture Top : Treponema Denticola is an anaerobic bacteria that may inhabit your mouth and is involved with Periodontal Disease. This shape of bacteria is known as a Spirochete for its corkscrew-like appearance.
“An avulsed tooth (or knocked-out tooth) can be sustained while playing contact sports, participating in activities like bike riding, or during accidents that involve head collisions – but can also occur in non-contact accidents as well,” says Dr Ralph Kelsey.
In many cases, these displaced teeth can be placed back into position by your dentist. Over time, they will be assessed and monitored as they repair and attach, and full rehabilitation can be possible. Other times, the tooth may be damaged beyond repair and tooth loss can be permanent. In these situations, your dentist will offer treatment options to replace your tooth.
In any dental avulsion scenarios, you should see a dentist as soon as possible. For specific instructions on handling dental trauma, check out the question section on our Emergency Dental page, under the heading “What should I do if I knock a tooth out?”.
As many of these injuries happen during physical activity, especially contact sport, we can often manage these risks with the use of a well-fitted custom mouthguard during risky activities.
Dental decay is caused by the build-up of plaque around the teeth. The bacteria in this plaque eat any sugars present in our mouths and convert it to acid, which attacks the enamel surface of our teeth!
Our sugar intake is directly linked to dental decay, and a good low-sugar diet plays an important role in maintaining our oral health. Acids in our diet also impact our tooth enamel when we eat or drink them, and we discuss acid wear in our article here.
“Our enamel is like a protective layer that coats our teeth, and these acids cause it to soften. This allows the formation of cavities and the exposure of the underlying tooth material (dentine) to bacteria and further acid wear,” says Dr Ralph Kelsey.
Tooth loss is inevitable if we do not keep our dental decay under control with our daily oral hygiene routine and activities such as brushing and flossing. Also, regular check-ups with your dentist will allow the on-going assessment of your teeth, and if necessary, dental X-rays can even be used to assess the impacts of bacteria on surrounding bone and gums. This is called Preventive Dentistry.
In cases where dental decay penetrates the outside protective layers of the tooth, and bacteria can enter the root of the tooth, then root canal treatment or complete removal of the tooth may be required.
Gum disease (also known as Periodontitis) is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults, and has many correlations with other aspects of your health, like heart disease & obesity. It is often painless and may require careful dental examination to detect.
This condition starts its development as Gingivitis, which people usually notice as bleeding around the gum line during brushing or flossing. The condition advances if left untreated, and starts to degrade the supporting structures that hold our teeth in place – like the gums, jaw bone and ligaments.
This is the transition to Periodontitis and the point at which the disease will greatly impact your ability to retain your teeth. Luckily, the condition can be managed and controlled with appropriate Gum Disease Treatment, such as regular dental hygiene appointments that include dental cleanings and the removal of plaque and hard deposits (called calculus).
Clenching & Grinding (Bruxism)
Clenching and grinding is a habit that often happens subconsciously, and in many cases, occurs at night during sleep. Many people do not even realise they have been grinding until the issue is raised by their dentist, who is able to see the signs of wear from bruxism.
Tooth loss caused by bruxism is uncommon, as most people will notice the wear to the biting surface of their tooth and seek treatment before it reaches this point. For example, your partner may hear you grinding in your sleep which prompts you to get an expert opinion.
However, in people that clench extremely hard or often, the teeth can become fractured or cracked. This undermines the health of the tooth and can lead to tooth loss. In rare cases, clenching and grinding can be so severe and forceful that it damages the ligaments and tissues surrounding the tooth, which also provides conditions that promote tooth loss.
Your dentist can assess the severity of your bruxism, whether it affects the retention of your teeth, and how the damage can be managed appropriately. Often, a splint (nightguard) can help protect your teeth throughout the night, and stop the recurring damage from grinding your teeth.