Despite the advances in healthcare and education, tooth loss continues to be a serious problem for millions of people worldwide. While there are some cases in which the loss of a tooth or teeth is not preventable, the great majority of them are. One of the reasons for the persistence of this problem could be the prevalence of a myth that losing teeth is simply a natural part of the aging process.
This myth is dangerous because it reduces the motivation to work diligently on great oral health so that you can keep your teeth for a lifetime!
The truth is that you can keep your teeth for the duration of your life when you care for them well with a dentist’s help. While working with a dentist to maintain great oral health is essential, in this article, we will focus on the steps you can take to avoid tooth loss.
Why Should You Work to Avoid Tooth Loss?
Not only is tooth loss not natural. It actually carries with it some negative effects on your health. The consequences of tooth loss worsen with each additional tooth lost in the mouth, but it is important to understand that even losing a single tooth can influence your health.
Our teeth serve many important functions, and the most important of those functions is chewing food. Chewing is the first step in the digestive process, breaking down food into smaller particles by both mechanical means and through salivary enzymes. When you lose a tooth, you lose a portion of that chewing function, and therefore, you can negatively affect the digestion of your food.
Losing one or more teeth increases the burden and stress placed upon the remaining teeth in the mouth. We can follow patients’ dental care over a lifetime and see a pattern that losing (and not replacing) a tooth is often followed by the loss of additional teeth. The reason people typically continue losing teeth is that the increased burden of chewing force causes a higher risk for cracked teeth, gum disease and cavities on the remaining teeth. Losing a tooth or teeth makes it more difficult for you to maintain the teeth left in your mouth.
What are the Benefits of Keeping All of Your Natural Teeth?
Maintaining all of your natural teeth over a lifetime carries wonderful benefits that touch many different realms of your life! When you understand the great advantages of having natural teeth into your senior years, you may find more motivation to do the work necessary to avoid tooth loss.
Maintaining a full complement of teeth provides a healthy chewing function so that your body continues to digest food properly over your lifetime. Many people resort to smoothies marketed toward elderly people who are unable to chew their food and receive the nutrients they need. A far better option is maintaining the teeth so that you can chew your food normally!
Your teeth are part of your body. Losing a tooth carries a psychological impact with which many people struggle. Some people feel embarrassed at losing teeth due to dental disease. Their mental health suffers from a lack of confidence in speaking, smiling and laughing with others.
Scientific studies even show a correlation between oral health and brain function. When the tooth loss results from chronic gum disease, you are actually at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease than people who keep their teeth and gums healthy!
Tooth loss can affect social interactions in many different ways. Some people are embarrassed to eat in front of others when they struggle to chew with few teeth. Others have problems with removable prosthetic teeth that can loosen or even fall out when eating or speaking. For this reason, many people begin to avoid social interactions with all but their closest loved ones. On the other hand, people who maintain healthy teeth tend to maintain a healthy social life into their senior years!
The physical advantages of a healthy mouth with a full set of natural teeth are almost endless. We have already described the nutritional benefits in a previous section. Great chewing function provides essential nutrients that support great overall health. Maintaining your teeth also promotes good speech and communication, as well as the social interactions that are so important for mental health!
If we are honest, we can admit that missing teeth in a smile is unattractive. Vanity is often motivation enough for you to work on keeping your teeth.
What Can You Do to Keep Your Teeth for Life?
Keeping your teeth for a lifetime takes effort on a few different fronts. When you combine these efforts, you are ensuring that you have the lowest risk for dental diseases and the greatest chance of maintaining a healthy mouth for many years.
Professional Dental Care
As we mentioned earlier, maintaining healthy teeth and gums for life will require professional dental care through consistent visits with your dentist. The dentist not only treats dental problems that arise. He or she can also help you work preventively so that you can fight unique risk factors affecting your ability to keep your teeth.
You are already excelling in this effort just by reading this article!
Understanding both the general progression of dental diseases and your unique risk factors helps you make good decisions that promote oral health. A good dental education needs to include the following:
- Understanding and putting into practice the appropriate techniques for brushing and flossing your teeth so that you can effectively remove dental plaqu
- Implementing additional tools to your home care routine that are useful in helping you clean your teeth well (like plaque-disclosing tablets or water flossers).
- Understanding and selecting the right oral care products, which containingredients to address your unique areas of risk (i.e. using fluoride or other remineralizing agents when you have a high risk for cavities).
We can also maintain the long-term health of our teeth by making healthy food and drink choices. Most people know that they should avoid large amounts of sugar to protect their teeth from cavities. You should also know that diets high in acidic foods and drinks can lead to tooth loss through erosion. Avoiding candies and sodas, while drinking plenty of neutral pH water, can help you maintain strong, healthy teeth for decades.
Great Oral Hygiene at Home
The goal of any oral hygiene is to remove dental plaque from the teeth. Plaque is the cause of both cavities and gum disease. Plaque is soft and simple to remove. Using great tools, like electric toothbrushes and water flossers, makes it even simpler!
While it is possible to remove dental plaque effectively with a manual toothbrush and floss, many people do not do so. This is either due to difficulty performing the correct technique or a lack of effort. For this reason, most dentists find that their patients are performing better plaque removal on a consistent basis when they switch from a manual toothbrush to an electric toothbrush.
While we cannot say that using a water flosser is as effective as using traditional floss with the right technique, we can say that many people experience an improvement in their oral hygieneby using a water flosser. This is because people may be unlikely or unwilling to perform traditional flossing on a consistent basis, while they are willing to use a water flosser.
--- By Dr. Lara I She is a 2004 graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry. She practiced general dentistry for 13 years before retiring for medical reasons. She currently serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry.