As well as being the key to a great smile, oral hygiene is essential for keeping us healthy – and actually contributing to the quality of our life.
But according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), many around the world are suffering from issues relating to dental health. Anywhere from 60-90% of children – and nearly 100% of adults – have dental cavities.
And here is a wake up call: About 30% of those aged between 65 and 74 have no natural teeth!
When it comes to tooth loss, genetics may play a part. The spacing of your teeth and the health of your teeth and gums are thought to be inherited. That, however, is not to say your oral health is completely out of your hands. No matter what is passed through the genes, you won’t have much to smile about if you don’t take good care of what you’ve been given.
Let’s now get into the topic at hand as we look at five main causes of tooth loss and what you can do to avoid this very serious issue.
The number one cause of tooth loss is gum disease, which affects almost one-fifth of middle-aged adults worldwide.
Most common in men over 35, gum disease is a localised infection in the gums and supporting structures of the teeth which causes a breakdown of bone. In time, this leads to teeth becoming loose and either falling out or degenerating to such a point that they are deemed beyond repair.
While the majority of adults will experience some form of gum disease, getting the basic hygiene down can help you avoid any major complications. So make sure you’re flossing regularly and brushing at least twice a day – and love your dentist enough to go for cleanings every six months!
Poor dental hygiene
Of course oral hygiene is a big factor in the overall health of your teeth. Not brushing often or not brushing well enough causes plaque to accumulate on the tooth’s surface, leading to cavities and decay.
This decay can progress to the extent that teeth are beyond repair and need to be either restored or removed. Decay also causes infections in and around the roots of your teeth, which often necessitates tooth removal to prevent further health complications.
While you’d think that brushing is easy enough and most people do it as they should, a statistic from our region tells another story: A recent Kuwaiti study showed that 60% of patients never or rarely brush their teeth – with only 16% brushing at least twice a day.
Nutrition and general health
When it comes to looking after your teeth, one factor often overlooked is diet. The antioxidants and nutrients found in fruit and vegetables not only help your body fight bacteria in your mouth, they also help reduce inflammation in the gums. What’s more, crisp fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots, and celery help to clean your teeth and even freshen your breath.
Underlying health issues may also be a factor. While many are aware that conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure can affect the eyes and heart, many do not realise the impact they can have on teeth and gums. Such health issues can hamper the body’s ability to fight off bacteria, which once again leads to decay and gum disease.
Smokers too should take heed. Those who smoke are more likely to produce bacterial plaque, and as smoke limits oxygen to the bloodstream, infected
gums can take longer to heal.
The World Health Organisation states that up to 40% of children under 12 are affected by dental trauma – either from a trip or fall, another type of accident, or through contact sports. Even if this trauma does not lead to immediate tooth loss, it can often cause a root fracture that then develops into infection months or even years later.
In some cases, the affected tooth can be treated at the time and appear to have recovered, only to degenerate years down the line. This is caused by root resorption, where historic damage to the nerve eats away at the root surface, causing irreversible damage to the tooth.
With that in mind, it’s highly advised that you get a full dental check should you experience any trauma to the jaw – or alternatively, avoid those activities that may lead to tooth injury!
And last but not least – tooth loss itself
Yes, I’m afraid tooth loss begets tooth loss – or, rather, not replacing those missing teeth does.
When a tooth is lost, the adjacent and/or opposing teeth begin to move in order to fill the gap that has been created by the missing tooth. As a result of that movement, the whole mouth starts to lose its “balance”, leading to a number of problems. Two main concerns include:
1. Crooked teeth are more difficult to clean – and in fact sometimes impossible to properly clean. Insufficient cleaning can cause periodontal disease or tooth decay, both of which can lead to further tooth loss.
2. Misaligned teeth can alter the way we bite, thus resulting in occlusion-related headaches or temporomandibular joint problems.
There is also the impact a missing tooth has on the work rate of the rest of your teeth. The loss of a tooth puts additional pressure on those remaining teeth, causing further wear and tear which leads to fracture.
So there we have it. As you can see, there are many factors at play when it comes to tooth loss – some preventable, some not so. Of course, it is imperative that you do all you can to look after your natural teeth. But should you experience tooth loss, it’s just as important that you get them replaced – not only to preserve that winning smile but, to protect against further damage and infection to the teeth and gums left behind.
About the author:
BDS cum laude, FFD (SA) MFOS
Cert. Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
Dr. Costa, BDS cum laude, FFD (SA) MFOS, qualified as a dentist in 1984 after receiving his dental degree from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. He graduated at the top of his class with “rank order number one,” and has received numerous awards over the years, including the Gold Medal of the Dental Association of South Africa, which recognizes the most outstanding graduate. In 1990 he completed his four-year, full-time postgraduate in maxillo-facial and oral surgery training at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Since 1991 he has been in private practice, concentrating on immediate loading of dental implants. To date Dr. Costa has placed over 35,000 dental implants, and as a key member of the global dental implant community he is a regular speaker on the topic, lecturing at various international implant congresses. In 2012, together with Prosthodontist Dr. Petros, Dr. Costa established SameDay Dental Implants Clinic, Dubai, as well as the Branemark Osseointegration Center, Dubai.