Shiflett Family Dental

Why replace missing teeth?

June 8, 2020
Posted By: Dr. Justin Shiflett
Jaw illustration in Columbus, OH

So you’re in the unfortunate situation of losing a tooth. What’s your next step? You have a bunch of other teeth left so it’s not a big deal, right? Replacing teeth is expensive, so isn’t it easier just to deal with what you have remaining? These are all considerations we encounter with our patients in Clintonville on a daily basis. Of course, every situation is unique, but we will try to boil it down to the common problems and their solutions.

What happens when I lose a tooth?

First, let’s discuss what happens after a tooth is removed. Once the tooth is gone, your body will form a blood clot in the socket. This clot will slowly convert to the bone over time in an attempt to replace the space. Unfortunately, the socket will not fill completely. What forms won’t be quite as tall or wide as it once was.

On its own, this isn’t a huge issue. A little less bone where a tooth used to be never killed, anyone. Over time, though, the bone will continue to shrink. The bone that supports your teeth (called alveolar bone), requires force to hang around and remain healthy. The loss of your tooth means little or no force is being put on that area. Your body takes that as a signal that the bone isn’t needed, and it slowly reduces in size.

For a single tooth, that means replacement may be difficult or impossible. This is one of the reasons a bone graft is recommended to keep bone around when a tooth is removed. It is true a graft may be done at a later date to build back up what has been lost, but this is much more difficult and doesn’t always work. For several teeth, the lack of support can mean a loose, uncomfortable, or even un-wearable partial or denture.

Another complication of lost teeth is the movement of the remaining ones. The tooth in front and back of the missing one(s) will begin to lean into the vacant space. The tooth or teeth that used to chew against the lost tooth will now move up or down in search of a partner in a process called supraeruption. This can compromise the bone support of these teeth and lead to treatment needs for an otherwise healthy tooth. This also limits the space we have to replace the lost dentition, again making it difficult or impossible to achieve the desired result. 

missing teeth illustration

I have many other teeth so I don’t need a replacement, right?

It is important to understand that we use our teeth for a variety of reasons (chewing, speaking, swallowing) and that any damage we do to them is cumulative. Although we may not immediately notice any issues when functioning with one less tooth, changes are occurring. The amount of force used when chewing, speaking, and swallowing is still the same, but the number of teeth has decreased. Each tooth, therefore, becomes responsible for a heavier load. 

Over time, this amplified responsibility causes increased wear on our valuable teeth. If these teeth have previous dental work like fillings or crowns, the restorations will fail sooner. Their failure will lead to expensive replacement of the work or even loss of the affected teeth. So although missing a single tooth may not seem like a big deal, it can set in motion a domino effect of gradual damage and multiple tooth loss. 

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Obviously preventing tooth loss is the best way to avoid the above complications. Having regular dental cleaning, exams, and x rays go a long way into keeping these issues at bay. If you would like to schedule an appointment or have any questions regarding tooth loss and replacement, give us a call at (614)262-1807.

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