It’s a shocking statistic: An estimated 120 million people in the United States alone are missing at least one tooth, according to the American College of Prosthodontists. The true shock to many of these Americans is that not replacing these lost teeth can actually cause premature aging, according to Dr. Kelley Mingus, a dentist practicing in Bend, Oregon.
"It’s easy to forget that each tooth is embedded in the jawbone," he said. "Not only does it take up space there, but it also stimulates the bone when chewing and biting. When you lose a tooth or teeth and that area is left empty, it can cause lots of problems, such as shifting of other teeth, bite problems and even premature aging of the face."
The teeth actually play a vital role in supporting the lower third of the face. As tooth loss occurs, and by default jaw bone loss as well, if teeth aren’t replaced, the face begins to show visible signs of aging. The alveolar bone, which is the bone that anchors the teeth, is incredibly important, Mingus said, and the first 18 months after tooth loss occurs is when the most deterioration happens.
After bone loss has begun, the distance between the chin and the nose begins to shorten. As a result, the lips begin to thin and the mouth begins to point downward as the lower third of the face begins to collapse inward slightly without the support of the jaw bone.
"Premature aging caused by lost teeth not being replaced is always hard to see, knowing that there was a way to prevent this from happening," said Mingus. "If the other teeth have begun to shift into the empty spaces, we often see bite misalignment and even pain from temporomandibular joint disorder symptoms as a result."
Dental implants are almost always the best solution for missing teeth, according to Mingus. This is the only solution for tooth loss that replaces the tooth from the root and jaw up. A dental implant is a titanium post that is placed inside the jaw bone where the tooth root would have been for the missing tooth. This helps the jaw bone stay stimulated and whole and provides stability to the patient for chewing, speaking and living life just as if the natural tooth was still in place.
"Dental implants are an incredible solution for missing teeth as they’re the closest to the natural thing you can get," said Mingus. "Even better news is that the success rate for implants is over 95 percent, and they last for a really long time."