It is easy to imagine teeth as separate units, and especially as each tooth is different from its neighbor, but teeth are designed to make a complete system that functions harmoniously.
Every tooth has a purpose, and ideally, you will have a full complement of teeth. This includes your anterior or front teeth and your posterior or back teeth.
Missing teeth can significantly affect your dental health and appearance in several different ways.
Anterior teeth, which are your incisors and canines, cut or bite into food. Your back teeth are your premolars and molars and grind and chew food so you can digest it more easily. Just as importantly, your posterior teeth support the vertical height of your face.
The Effect of Losing Teeth
If you lose posterior teeth, you lose vertical height in what is called posterior bite collapse. These changes affect any remaining back teeth, as these teeth will shift position toward any empty gaps. The shifting position affects the way your teeth are spaced, and it can change the way your teeth bite together.
Losing posterior teeth increases pressure on your front teeth, which can begin to move or splay outward.
All these changes affect your appearance or aesthetics and tooth function or bite. They also negatively affect your facial and jaw structure, and which includes your facial skin and muscles and jaw joints.
Facial Atrophy from Missing Teeth
As the height of your jaw decreases, your appearance can begin to change. Missing teeth will cause bone loss in both jaws but especially affects the lower jaw. One major problem is that the jawbone is continually remodeling. Normally, your jawbone receives stimulation from your tooth roots, but when you lose teeth, bone shrinkage occurs. Old bone cells that would previously have been replaced are no longer renewed after tooth removal.
Wrinkles can appear or will deepen into folds, and the corners of the mouth begin to droop. Posterior bite collapse can cause a sunken-in and prematurely aging appearance.
Additionally, eating food is trickier as front teeth aren’t designed for chewing food. The increased pressure can wear these teeth prematurely. People missing back teeth will often choose softer foods that require little, if any, chewing. These foods are often bland and boring to eat and may lack essential vitamins and minerals needed for overall health. Consequently, it can become harder to fight infection and disease.
Problems Caused by Drifting Teeth
When all your teeth are present, it creates stability. Teeth are correct in the correct positions because of complex eruption forces and pressure contacts, although they will shift slightly during aging. However, when teeth are missing, the remaining teeth will drift or migrate from their normal positions. They lack the support provided by the missing tooth and bone, and remaining teeth will move out of their anatomical positions into these spaces. As teeth shift, they weaken, and the risk of losing these teeth is higher.
Missing teeth increases the risk of over eruption of the opposing teeth. When you lose one or more teeth, the teeth in the opposing jaw lose the contact and pressures previously created by these missing teeth. Without these counter forces, the opposing teeth will begin to over-erupt, affecting their stability and affecting your bite. When teeth do over-erupt, it can be harder to correct them in the future.
Your maxillary sinuses are hollow cavities located in each cheek, just above your upper back teeth. When upper back teeth are missing or are extracted, it can affect your sinus cavities, and sinus expansion can occur when the maxillary sinuses begin to enlarge. As they increase in size, the jawbone begins to deteriorate and may be less suitable for dental implants. When you have a complete set of teeth, it protects your maxillary sinuses, preventing unwanted bone loss. Our dentist Dr. Leonard Umanoff always takes extra care when removing upper back teeth because they are close to the sinus cavities, and it’s important not to damage these structures.
Cosmetic Problems Created by Tooth Loss
Tooth loss can create considerable cosmetic problems and especially if the missing teeth are right in your smile line and are visible whenever you talk or laugh with others. Consequently, people with missing front teeth will often feel embarrassed and may hide their mouths with their hands whenever they talk, or worse, will avoid social interactions altogether.
Missing back teeth can also affect the appearance of your front teeth and especially if they begin to splay outward because of loss of vertical height in your jaw. Also, as teeth begin to drift out of place, it can cause unsightly gaps between your remaining teeth.
If you are missing teeth or are facing tooth loss, it is critical to consider the best way to replace them. Ideally, it is better to replace missing teeth as soon as possible to prevent these undesirable consequences of tooth loss.
Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth loss as they protect against jawbone loss. Much of this bone loss occurs during the first year of tooth loss, but the jawbone will continue to deteriorate in the following years, albeit at a slower rate.