A missing tooth is really obvious, especially if it’s in the smile zone at the front of your mouth. However, losing a tooth can have a far more serious effect on your oral and overall health than just causing embarrassment when you smile. It’s not the gap itself, but what goes on around and under that gap that’s important in the long term.
Two major things happen in your jaw when a tooth is removed or lost through suffering from a dental emergency or gum disease. For one thing, the bone that supports the tooth tends to shrink over time in a process called resorption. This happens because the bone no longer receives the stimulation it used to get from contact between teeth, which it needs to keep its form and density. The bone loses both width and height over a period of time and the more teeth lost or removed the more of the jaw bone and the gums will shrink away.
The rest of the teeth tend to drift towards the front of the mouth or towards the opposing jaw to fill any space left open by missing teeth, only stopping when they bump up against another tooth.
Drifting teeth lengthen if the gap is opposite them, so your teeth can end up differing in height, or skew if the drift is sideways. Both can affect your bite. Gum height and contour differences can also increase the risk of both tooth decay and gum disease because spaces are created where debris can collect.
- A single tooth implant: A dental implant is like a root replacement with a crown attached. The implant itself is made of titanium which will allow it to fuse with the bone. Once the visible part, the crown is attached, the tooth behaves, looks and works like an ordinary tooth. In the event of damage to the crown, it can be removed and replaced without damaging the titanium implant. Implants do not increase the chances of gum disease or tooth decay and pose no threat to abutment teeth. They also help to stem the bone loss brought about by lost teeth by providing the stimulation the bone needs to retain form and density.
- Implant support for multiple tooth replacement: Implants can be used to support as well as secure in place bridges as well as a partial or full arches of removable dentures.
- A fixed partial denture (FPD) or bridge consists of a false tooth supported by two abutment teeth on each side of the gap. The two abutment teeth are crowned and together support the middle replacement tooth. This type of replacement has been popular for many years and results in a very close to normal outcome in terms of shape, aesthetics, function and comfort. Careful maintenance is necessary to ensure it doesn’t fall victim to bacteria build-up on the false tooth and resultant decay and loss of the abutment teeth.
- Resin-bonded bridges have wings on either side to attach to adjacent teeth without the need for grinding them down to accept crowns as is the case with FPDs. Unfortunately it is not as strong and as fixed bridgework and not as long lasting as implants.
- Removable complete or partial dentures are relatively low in cost but can prove uncomfortable, less stable and function less naturally than the other replacement options. Partial dentures are hooked into place while the complete denture balances on top of the gums.