According to Vincent Carrao, Chief or oral and maxillofacial Surgery at Mount Sinai, most Americans start out with 32 adult teeth. But that number drops to under 25, due to what is often preventable tooth loss.
“The most common causes of tooth loss are caries or carious lesions, a.k.a. cavities, tooth decay caused by bacteria that breaks down the crown of the tooth,” Carrao says. “We now have the option of dental implants to replace non-restorable teeth.”
Tooth decay is the single most prevalent chronic disease among Americans, both adults and children.
Dental implants are synthetic teeth made out of metal and porcelain.
“These implants consist of a small titanium screw that goes into the upper or lower jaw bone and becomes the root of the tooth. Bone actually grows into the implant, which makes it very strong,” Carrao says. “Once the screw part heals, in about three months, we place a crown over it so it looks like a tooth. This allows us to make a new tooth without harming the surrounding teeth.” In the past, to create a bridge, the oral surgeon would have to cut down the surrounding teeth. Carious lesions are mostly preventable.
“What brings about carious teeth and loss of teeth is usually due to lack of oral hygiene. Basically, brushing the teeth twice a day and going to the dentist and dental hygienist regularly,” says Carrao. “A big part of this is due to lack of education in the community or patients not having access to good oral health care.” Some people are also genetically predisposed to tooth loss.
Even little kids can get cavities, especially if they eat too much candy.
“I ask kids, ‘If you were out in the yard making mud pies, would you come inside and not wash your hands?’ And they say, ‘No,’” Carrao says. “So then I say, ‘If you eat dinner and eat a hamburger that gets mushed around in your mouth, don’t you think you should go brush your teeth?’ And they get it.” Kids need to be trained to think it’s important to clean their teeth after eating.
New imaging technology is radically improving dental care. “In the past five to six years, many oral surgeons have gotten improved x-rays that give a three-dimensional view of the teeth. That allows us to see very precisely how much bone we need to draft and lots of other things we need to know,” Carrao says. “We can even make a 3-D surgical guide to guide our drills.”
Questions for your doctor:
If you have tooth decay, the first question is, “Can I save this tooth?” If the answer is no, then ask “Why can’t I save it?” If you do have a non-restorable tooth, ask, “Am I a candidate for an implant?”
After getting an implant, you need to continue with the same dental hygiene recommended for everyone else.
“If you don’t brush your teeth and floss them, you’re going to face the same problems again,” Carrao says. “There’s no avoiding it: good dental hygiene and dental health is a quality-of-life issue.”
What you can do:
For solid information on dental health, check out the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (aaoms.org) and Mount Sinai (mountsinai.org/patient-care/service-areas/dentistry-and-oral-medicine/treatment)
Choose a daily ounce of prevention. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss everyday too.
Don’t skip the dentist.
Everyone should go to the dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and once a year for x-rays.
By the numbers:
– Tooth decay is the most common chronic health problem from American kids and adults.
– Most Americans start out with 32 adult teeth.
– That number drops to under 25 due to what is often preventable tooth loss.
– Ninety-two percent of adults 20 to 64 have had dental cavities.
– Five percent of adults age 20 to 64 have no remaining teeth.
(Source: The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research )