How Losing Your Teeth Affects Your Health

The side effects of tooth loss extend well beyond impacting your self-confidence. Missing teeth can trigger chain reactions that increase your risk of TMJ disorder, premature tooth wear, digestive issues, and more.

Key takeaways:
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    After a tooth falls out, the bone in that space naturally starts to shrink away.
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    Neighboring and opposing teeth will drift out of alignment to fill the void.
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    Changes in oral function can lead to broken teeth and dental work.
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    Compromised joint motions gradually lead to TMJ and muscle pain in the head and neck area.
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    The health effects of missing teeth are both physical and emotional.

Periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in the United States. Other factors like severe tooth decay, dental emergencies, and traumatic injuries can also result in lost teeth. Fortunately, access to preventative care means more of us are keeping our natural teeth healthier and longer than ever. However, tooth loss can still happen to anyone. Just because a tooth isn’t visible when you smile doesn’t mean you shouldn’t replace it at your earliest opportunity. After losing a tooth, many unwanted side effects arise.

Bone resorption after tooth loss

Bone resorption is the first side effect that develops after a tooth is extracted or falls out. Resorption is a natural shrinkage of bone, resulting in loss of bone density and jaw height. Your dentist can typically see the resorption on an X-ray.

Bone resorption poses four common issues:

  1. Loss of support to your soft tissues results in premature facial aging.
  2. Reduced bone quality affects treatment options if the patient decides to get a dental implant (reducing their candidacy for implant treatment).
  3. Weakening bone support around the teeth on either side of the missing tooth.
  4. Loose or uncomfortable fitting dentures because of a narrow bone ridge.

A dentist can place a bone graft to slow or prevent bone resorption. However, the best option is to preserve the tooth or immediately replace it with a dental implant, as implants delay bone loss.

Tooth misalignment

When you remove a book from a shelf, it’s natural to expect the next several books to shift into the open space. Unfortunately, this same scenario often plays out when a tooth is extracted or knocked out. Because teeth support one another, removing a tooth nearly always causes the next one to tilt or lean into the newly created space.

Opposing teeth can also experience “super-eruption,” where a tooth begins drifting out of the socket in an attempt to locate its biting partner. This scenario can cause certain teeth to look taller or longer.

If you have perfectly straight teeth, it’s unlikely that they’ll stay that way after losing a tooth. Movement and shifting can affect an entire row of teeth as they gradually drift from a lack of support. The only way to correct the misalignment is through orthodontic therapy, such as braces or clear aligners.

Abnormal tooth wear

As teeth begin to move and misalign, it also changes the way your upper and lower teeth bite together (occlusion). This situation can lead to exposing certain teeth to heavier biting forces than normal. And although tooth enamel is the hardest substance in our bodies, excessive tooth-on-tooth wear can wear it down at an accelerated rate.

As the months and years go by, accelerated enamel wear can cause issues like flat, sharp, or broken teeth. However, it also places restorations like crowns and fillings at risk of breakage or premature failure.

TMJ disorder, headaches, and neck pain

The result of irregular tooth wear and changes in biting patterns extends beyond your smile. Your TMJ (jaw joint) will also need to change the way it moves each time you eat a meal or snack throughout the day. Atypical joint motions may not be noticeable initially, but they can gradually lead to internal damage to the joint itself.

Even if formal temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder doesn’t develop, jaw pain, popping, and clicking are fairly common. Furthermore, the muscles attached to your jaw can experience tension, fatigue, and chronic pain. These tissues extend throughout your face, neck, shoulders, and even into your upper back. As a result, neck pain or headaches may become more common.

Malabsorption and dietary concerns

The entire digestive process is impacted when your teeth can’t properly break food down before swallowing. As a result, food becomes more difficult to digest in your gastrointestinal tract, leading to dietary deficiencies and other side effects.

Many people inadvertently shift to softer, processed foods after losing multiple teeth. This is especially common in older individuals who wear full dentures or no prosthesis at all. This means they typically aren’t eating meals with fresh produce, which is rich in important vitamins and nutrients. Additionally, because many of these individuals have compromised immune systems, the inability to eat a balanced diet affects everything from their ability to recover from illnesses to daily energy levels.

Mental and emotional health

It’s impossible to discuss the effects of tooth loss without mentioning your self-esteem. The loss of confidence and/or embarrassment caused by missing teeth is often unmeasurable. Yet it impacts every social encounter, relationship, and even career.

Research has shown that when people don’t smile, they tend to create impressions of being unfriendly or unhappy. In reality, many of these people may simply be embarrassed by the way their teeth look. Similar studies have shown that enhancing one’s smile benefits social lives, helps make better impressions, and can significantly increase a person’s confidence.

If you have missing teeth or are planning to have teeth extracted, talk to your dentist about the best type of tooth replacement in that area. Options like dental implants, bridges, or partial dentures can help preserve natural tooth spacing and oral function. Implants can also slow the effects of bone loss.