Missing teeth are not just an aesthetic problem. Tooth loss can impair one’s ability to chew and speak, and it can change the shape of a patient’s face. Everyone has seen older people with faces that appear “compressed.” There is less space between the tip of the nose and the chin than there should be, and the lips tend to pucker inward. These abnormalities are most likely due to tooth loss and jaw bones that have become shrunken over time.
When our mouths are closed all the way, our teeth keep our jaws apart. When teeth are missing, the jaw can close much more, which makes the face shorter. The medical name for the space between the jaw bones is called the vertical dimension of occlusion (VDO). Teeth increase the VDO so the facial structure stays long.
There is a close relationship between teeth and facial structure. In fact, teeth are necessary to the development and maintenance of the jaw bone. Compression of the teeth from proper chewing actually stimulates the jaw bone and helps it maintain a healthy form and density. When a tooth is missing, the lack of stimulation to the jaw bone causes a noticeable loss in bone volume and density.
Traditional dentistry often uses dentures or bridges to address missing teeth. However, these remedies do not take into account the relationship between the teeth and the jaw bone and do nothing to prevent future bone loss. A removable denture actually accelerates bone loss, which is something many patients fail to understand. In addition, a large percentage of denture wearers can eat only soft foods, leading them to avoid certain foods altogether.
Prosthodontics and Dental Implants
Fortunately, modern prosthodontics provides patients with better options, namely dental implants. Dental implants are permanent solutions for tooth loss, and they work just a like a natural tooth. They are dental prostheses that can replace a single tooth or a whole section of teeth. Essentially, dental implants replace the tooth root, and then a crown is attached to the false root. The implant is made from commercially pure titanium which allows it to integrate with the jaw bone. By doing so, the chewing force can stimulate the jaw bone so it maintains healthy bone structure and function.
In addition, dental implants have other benefits over dentures or bridges. They do not decay, and they pose little risk for gum disease. There is also a decreased risk of root canal failure, and they can be made to blend in flawlessly with the surrounding teeth. While the upfront cost can be more than a denture or bridge, dental implants are generally much longer lasting so they are cost effective over time.
According to the American College of Prosthodontists, more than 35 million Americans do not have any teeth, and 178 million Americans are missing at least one tooth. These numbers are expected to grow over the next 20 years as the population of the country ages. Patients who are facing tooth loss should inquire about whether prosthodontics can help them maintain proper facial shape and jaw function through the use of dental implants.
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