June 6, 2016
A missing tooth is no laughing matter — as well as the discomfort and potential health issues the gap causes, you may find it affecting the way other people see you. Consciously or unconsciously, we associate missing teeth with disease and decay and find gaps in smiles unnerving, even if we know it was the result of a sporting accident.
A missing tooth can cause many problems; your other teeth can gradually move into the space it has left, becoming uneven and affecting your bite. This movement can lead to jaw pain and chipped or broken teeth; teeth with crowns and fillings are particularly susceptible to such damage. The space is left behind is also vulnerable to food packing, which can lead to health issues such as gum disease which can loosen other teeth.
You are also vulnerable to bone erosion in your jaw after losing a tooth — the gap in the jaw left behind by the missing tooth can break down, weakening your jaw and potentially affecting the teeth around the gap.
With an implant, your teeth cannot move into the gap as it is filled, maintaining your bite and jaw health. Prior to having the implant, your dentist should have fully treated any gum disease and gum conditions, ensuring that your implant is inserted into healthy gums and a healthy jaw. Your ability to bite and chew will be enhanced by the implant, meaning your diet doesn’t have to change.
As well as health benefits, dental implants can provide many psychological benefits. People with missing or decayed teeth tend not to smile as much — smiling, even fake smiling, can improve your mood and releases chemicals in your brain that can relax your body, lower your blood pressure, and decrease your heart rate.
A good smile can even help you in your career — it improves others’ first impression of you and makes you seem friendly, confident and trustworthy. Missing teeth, on the other hand, can have a negative effect — they can stand between you and promotion or even prevent you from being hired in the first place.
Missing teeth can also stand in your way when it comes to relationships — your smile is the first thing that people notice on a date, with 73% of people preferring someone with a good smile.
Dentures are the more traditional replacement for missing teeth but they are not ideal. While they can restore some function, they are also imperfect; they can rub and irritate your gums, interfere with your sense of taste and, as they aren’t fixed to your gums, can move around and sometimes dislodge at embarrassing moments. If you are suffering from jaw degeneration, especially as a result of osteoporosis, dentures may also quickly become ill-fitting and move around when you speak.
Wearing dentures can have a similar psychological effect to missing teeth, causing the wearer to cover their mouth when they speak, become self-conscious about their smile, and avoid eating around others in case their denture becomes dislodged.
If you wear dentures and are seeking a better way to secure them, you can get small implanted anchoring points to secure them in place, preventing rubbing and movement and allowing them to appear more natural.
There are a number of different types of implants suitable for different situations, and many procedures that can be carried out to make your mouth more suitable for implants. It used to be the case that if the bone in your jaw was very thin you would be unable to have implants inserted — this is no longer the case. Using new techniques such as bone grafts and bone ridge expansion, the width of the bone can be increased to allow for implants.
If you are missing several teeth, all in one row, you can have a dental implant bridge, which is anchored to multiple points in the mouth to ensure it remains secure and comfortable. However, if you are missing the majority of your teeth, the best quality implant is a dental spark erosion bridge, which can comfortably replace a full mouth of teeth in an attractive and practical way.
As well as improving your dental health, implants can have a significant effect on your mental and physical health. If you are considering having dental implants, it may be worth considering a specialist dentist — many may not be up to date with the latest technology.
Dr Raj Wadhwani BDS LDSRCS(ENG) DGDPRCS(ENG) MFDSRCS(ENG) MClinDent (Prosth) MSc (Imp) is the Founder, Clinical Director and Lead Clinician of Antwerp Dental Group, a dentistry practice in Cambridge. He has a special interest in using advances in technology to further the practice of dentistry, specifically laser dentistry and CAD/CAM dentistry. He teaches and mentors at the Royal College of Surgeons.