Seven out of ten Americans are missing at least one tooth due to decay, periodontal (gum) disease or injury. Unfortunately, the consequences go far beyond a missing tooth — the loss of even one could set in motion a cascade of problems.
Perhaps the most damaging of these problems is bone loss. Like other living tissue, bone has a life cycle — older cells dissolve (resorb) into the body and are replaced by fresher cells. This growth cycle in the jawbone receives stimulation from forces generated by teeth when we chew or bite. If a tooth is no longer present to provide this stimulation, the affected bone cells won’t regenerate at a healthy rate. Over time this causes the volume of bone to diminish, as much as 25% the first year after tooth loss.
The void left by a missing tooth can also adversely affect remaining teeth. Teeth are held in place by a tough but elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament that lies between the tooth and the bone. The ligament enables teeth to move gradually in response to mouth changes so that the teeth remain tightly aligned with each other. When there’s a gap from a missing tooth, this tendency will cause the teeth on either side to move (or “drift”) toward the open space. Although a natural phenomena, it can result in a malocclusion (poor bite).