We can all remember the experience of losing our teeth as children. It's easy to recall the excitement and initial shock of that first wiggly tooth, the hours or days of waiting for it to fall out, and the thrill of waking up to a note or gift from the tooth fairy. But while losing teeth is a childhood rite of passage, it can also happen in adulthood. Adult tooth loss, also known as edentulism, is an oral health condition that affects many people. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 27.27% of seniors, 65 years or older, have lost all teeth. While this can at first be an overwhelming statistic, know that it is preventable. Let's go over the prevention methods, risk factors, and signs of edentulism.
Edentulism: How Can You Avoid This Common Condition?
You may be wondering, "what is edentulism?" and "is edentulism a permanent issue?" Once this condition presents itself, adult tooth loss is irreversible and can only be treated by getting your teeth replaced. So while there is no "cure" for edentulism, it does not have to play a detrimental role in your life. With teeth replacement options, you'll be able to have confidence in smiling again! We recommend speaking with your dental professional about which replacement is best for you.
There are several risk factors associated with total tooth loss. Many of them are risk factors for periodontal disease, which, in turn, cause tooth loss. So, if you are at risk for gum disease, you are most likely on a slow but preventable path towards edentulism. Let's go over the main risk factors to be aware of when considering your susceptibility to tooth loss:
- Age. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, over 70 percent of people older than 65 have some form of periodontal (gum) disease. Which, as stated above, is the primary reason that people lose their teeth. Periodontal disease can become a problem for adults because of inconsistent personal oral hygiene habits, a lack of access to preventive oral care, or an inability to afford dental care, perhaps because of lack of insurance.
- Smoking. You have a much greater chance of losing your teeth and damaging your gums if you're a smoker or if you were one in the past. Smoking attacks your body in various ways, from giving you a reduced ability to recover after surgery to make you more susceptible to gum disease. In turn, smoking is a severe risk factor for tooth loss.
- Diabetes. The American Dental Association notes that 22% of people diagnosed with diabetes have periodontal disease. Diabetes causes your body's ability to heal to be slower and compromises your resistance to infections. These factors increase your susceptibility to developing periodontal disease, which can lead to tooth loss.
- Genetics. The American Dental Association also states that genetics don't usually play a role in mouth health issues alone. Instead, they impact our teeth and gums when combined with environmental factors, such as smoking and diabetes.
- Other Factors. Stress, medications you take for other diagnosed conditions, and the types of food you eat can also influence your chances of becoming edentulous. Stress can lead to excessive tooth grinding, causing teeth to break and crumble. Prescribed medications can cause dry mouth as a side effect, which in turn limits the saliva in your mouth that would break down gum disease-causing bacteria. Some medicines can also make you more susceptible to bleeding. Both of these medication side effects can deteriorate your gum health, so it's important to tell your dental professional what medications you take. And just like how sticky, sugary foods can lead to other oral health issues, it's best to avoid them when trying to eliminate tooth loss!
Preventing edentulism means incorporating everyday practices into your life that promote good oral health. With preventive maintenance from your dentist and dental hygienist, you can help lower the risk factors. Think of these appointments just like you would a cardio exercise regimen that may help your heart health despite your family's risk factors. Your dental professional will act as a personal trainer, putting you on a path to keeping your teeth healthy and strong.
We recommend brushing your teeth twice a day and cleaning between your teeth (also known as interdental cleanings, like using floss or water flossers) once a day. Then swishing with a mouth rinse to wipe out any remaining bacteria at the end of your oral care routine. By incorporating healthy habits into your life that fight plaque and tartar build-up and mitigating other risk factors in your control, you will inherently be fighting edentulism!
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.