What if I told you that keeping your teeth for life is easier than it seems. What you may not realize is that you have the power to decide if you want to keep your teeth for a lifetime. One of my primary goals in practice is to help people through this simple process. Kind of like a dental coach.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about losing teeth as we age. On two separate occasions when I was in dental school people in their early twenties came in and asked to have all of their teeth removed. When I asked what their concerns were, they told me that one tooth was bothering them. This person explained that they would just like to have all of their teeth removed like their parents did when they were twenty. This is misinformation to the extreme.
For most people the ability to keep their teeth for life can be an absolute reality. The thing that saddens me most is seeing someone in their 80’s or 90’s who only has a few teeth left, can’t chew, and isn’t in good enough health to restore their teeth. Unfortunately, this sad situation occurred again this week. Everyone cares about eating, whether you are twenty or one hundred. I would like to walk you through the three main ways people lose their teeth, and how to avoid them.
Biological Causes of Tooth Loss:
Biological causes of tooth loss are things that you can control. They deal with bacteria, pH, and other chemical processes going on in your mouth.
- Dental Decay (Cavities)
At the most basic level cavities are caused by specific bad bacteria in our mouths. Two main factors allow bad bacteria to create cavities: simple sugars and added acidity. When we eat simple carbohydrates (even breads) or drink sugary drinks plaque begins to form on our teeth. The bad bacteria attach to the plaque, eat the sugars, and give off lactic acid. This removes the calcium from our teeth and cavities form.
We have found that people rarely develop cavities if their teeth are 90% plaque free. This is the simple answer for most people to avoiding cavities. That is why we always measure our patients’ plaque free percentage at their hygiene appointments. This gives them an idea of how effectively they are cleaning their teeth on a regular basis. This goes back to proper brushing and flossing. For the majority of people, keeping the plaque off of their teeth will greatly reduce the number of cavities that they get.
*This goes against the recommendations recently publicized about not flossing. For me, seeing the benefits my patients get from flossing has proven this research inaccurate
2. Gum Disease
In short, the beginning of gum disease starts with dental plaque that stays on the teeth for too long. Therefore, keeping plaque off the teeth will prevent this cause of tooth loss. If plaque is left on the teeth for too long bacteria capable of starting the progression of gum disease migrate into the gums and cause inflammation. This inflammation is why gums are tender or bleed when flossing. This is known as gingivitis.
Sometime this phase can progress to where the body begins to give off chemicals that eat away the bone around the teeth. This is called periodontal disease. If not stopped this can continue over time until the teeth get loose and fall out. This is why I believe the health of our gums and supporting bone is the foundation for long-term oral health.
Functional Cause of Tooth Loss
The functional cause of tooth loss is something that is not in your control. It is something that a trained dentist can help you with.
1. A Bad/Unbalanced Bite
Many people have not heard of this before, however I bet you have seen or heard of what it can cause. This includes TMJ pain, facial muscle soreness, some types of headaches, broken teeth, worn teeth, or shifting teeth. These issues are not in your control because they deal with the way your jaws developed or how your upper and lower teeth meet each other.
Too often these types of problems go undiagnosed or are improperly dealt with. If your teeth keep breaking it’s often not that they are weak, it’s that there is something off in the chewing system. In order for our mouths to function properly our teeth must work in harmony with the muscles that help us open and close, as well as our jaw joints.
There are ways to correct these issues. Some are quite simple and others are more complex. However, the diagnosis should be made by a dentist who has training in this area and can properly develop a plan that corrects appropriately while meeting your personal wants and needs. Correcting the cause of this issue allows you to have the peace of mind that you can avoid future problems that often arise when patchwork is done.
I hope this helps you understand a little more about your mouth. One example of how you have control over your oral health is through flossing. If you don’t floss, your gums are probably sore and bleeding the first few times that you do it. After a week or so of flossing, you will be less sore and have less bleeding. Congratulations, you have just reduced inflammation and thus taken a step in becoming healthier and preventing future issues.
Until Next Time,
Will Yoder, DMD