5 Reasons to Fix That Gap in Your Mouth
Did you know that you should get a new replacement “tooth” if you lose one? If you keep your missing-tooth area untreated, your teeth and jaw get damaged over time. Here is how damages happen:
- Each tooth plays a vital role in processing food when you eat. Having a missing tooth changes the natural way your muscles and joints work to chew food. Likewise, the teeth on either side of the gap need to work harder trying to make up for the missing tooth. The added stress will move and damage your remaining teeth, causing wear and cracks, and your facial muscles become unbalanced, making your face crooked over time.
- Chewing on teeth gives optimal stimulus and pressure to the jawbones that hold the teeth. When you lose a tooth, the bone in the area no longer gets the proper pressure. Without that everyday pressure from the tooth, the bone becomes less dense and gets weaker. This is the same reason why astronauts in space (no pressure from gravity) lose bone; they have to constantly stimulate their bones during flight and after returning to Earth. Think of it as the common rule, “Use it or lose it.” regarding the jaw bone or any other bones.
- When you lose a tooth, the teeth next to the space and the opposite side start drifting into the missing tooth’s space. This shifting of your teeth means the teeth start hitting each other in places that are not meant to touch. These improper contacts cause the teeth to get ‘micro-fractures’–very fine cracks that invite bacteria to enter into the deeper part of the tooth. Over time, these invading bacteria cause cavities deep inside the tooth.
- The teeth, gums, and bones work as a unit to support each other. The gums and bones get traumatized when teeth are not properly positioned. Gums have supporting fibers, and they get stressed and break easily when the tooth constantly receives uneven force during chewing. Broken gum fibers cause inflammation and loss of gum tissue. A healthy, shallow gum-pocket space (usually less than 3 mm, or 1/4 of an inch) becomes deeper. The deeper pocket then becomes the house for anaerobic bacteria, which invade deeper into the pockets, eventually destroying the gum and bone in the area. You will find it harder and harder to keep the gums and teeth clean, and the never-ending fighting with bone loss begins.
- You may also start feeling more cold, hot, and/or sweet sensitivity around the gum lines. This is from the exposed tooth root from losing the gum support. The root structure is usually wrapped by gum and bone, but the nerve-rich root surfaces become exposed after losing such protective tissue. This is why people with exposed roots often feel pain on cold or hot food or drinks.
- Your appearance can also start changing. Depending on which tooth is lost, your lip may look unevenly thin, or your cheeks look unbalanced, or one side of your face may show more wrinkles as a result of facial muscles working unevenly. So, while a missing front tooth causes more urgent troubles in your appearance, not-so-visible back teeth or hidden teeth under the lip will equally cause undesirable changes in your face and smile.
The bottom line is that the longer you wait to replace a missing tooth, the more damage you risk to your remaining teeth, gum and bone structure. The best solution is to replace the missing tooth and preserve your natural youth and smiles.
What are Your Options?
Dental implants are a replacement for the root portion of the tooth. It is placed into the bone, and once the bone grows around the root-shaped post, a tooth-like porcelain crown (= cap) is placed using another part called “abutment” or “connector”. If an implant is placed to support a full or partial denture, the dentist may put a snap- or a bar-like part to both the implant and denture to help stabilize the denture in the mouth.
- Once placed, it is the least likely treatment that needs to be repeated and may be the least costly over a lifetime
- Can regain or may even improve your functions such as chewing, drinking, speech, smiling, etc.
- It feels and looks more natural to have an implant tooth than a removable denture tooth
- Durable, often lasting a lifetime, minimizing the damage to other teeth and keeping the jawbone more intact
- The initial cost is more than other solutions
- Requires bone-healing time to be successful and often 2-4 visits to complete the process
- Implants are made with titanium metal or zirconia. While rare, some patients are sensitive to the implant material. (We recommend the Material Reactivity Test to make sure your bone will never receive a metal or porcelain material that is not compatible with your body.)
Please go to our website to read more about our dental implant services.
A bridge is an artificial tooth (called “pontic”) connected to the two adjacent teeth (called “abutment” teeth) of the gap. We use these two teeth to support the replacement tooth in the gap. We place a crown on each abutment tooth, which is each connected by the replacement/pontic tooth.
- It costs less than an implant.
- We can usually complete the procedure within one or two visits.
- It replaces your missing teeth and restores the function of your teeth – like chewing and speaking more naturally.
- It prevents your remaining teeth from shifting, thus minimizing the damage related to tooth loss.
- Bridge work is durable, with many bridges lasting for years/decades before needing to be replaced.
- While the initial cost may be less than implant treatment, the bridge may need to be replaced if the tooth becomes decayed. This will cause the lifetime cost to be more than the implant option.
- If the abutment teeth are healthy and do not need a crown, your dentist may recommend other options to help you keep the healthy teeth from being cut or ground down–a necessary step if you choose a bridge option.
- The bridged teeth are connected, so flossing cannot be done like other individual teeth. You will need a special dental-care tool(s) to keep the teeth and gums clean. You may be more likely to have a cavity if not properly done.
Please read more about our dental bridge services on our website.
A Removable Partial Denture
We make a removable partial denture by placing an artificial tooth or teeth into a base that fits in the space where your tooth once was. It is held in place by metal clasps that hook onto the adjacent teeth on each side.
- They cost less than a bridge or implant.
- They may be less invasive than other options.
- Your remaining teeth may be unchanged if a partial denture can be designed with fewer missing teeth.
- If you lose more teeth in the future, you may only need to have more teeth just added to your partial denture.
- Partials may be a better option than a full denture to replace lost teeth if you have strong natural teeth to support them.
- It feels less natural because it feels bulkier than other options.
- Sticky foods such as chewy bread, soft candies, and cheese may stick, causing the partial to fall out.
- It is harder to keep the mouth clean and you will have more plaque and tartar buildup around the teeth.
- Trauma to the denture-supporting teeth or gums can occur from pressure and movement of the partial.
- Bone loss at the site of the missing teeth will occur over time, affecting the adjacent teeth to become loose.
Please read more about our denture services on our website.
There are pros and cons to each solution for a missing tooth. Unfortunately, there is no one perfect solution. But one thing is clear; doing nothing and leaving space in your jaw will cause more trouble than doing something about it and replacing the missing tooth with one of the above solutions. The best thing to do is to make an appointment, and I will listen to your specific needs with you so you have all the information to make the best decision that best satisfies your needs, priorities, and lifestyle.
We are all about giving you a beautiful, healthy, and confident smile.
Dr. Manami Yamaguchi