Did you know that the average adult has three or more missing teeth? There are many reasons why someone might be missing teeth. Teeth may be lost as the result of trauma, such as a car accident or sports injury. In other cases, teeth might be lost due to extensive tooth decay or advanced periodontal (gum) disease. While it may be easy to hide and accept having a missing tooth if it is in the back and not visible in your smile, not replacing it can have serious physical and psychological consequences.

Teeth play a vital role in our ability to chew food. When teeth are missing, it can become difficult or even painful to chew. Missing teeth can cause a person to eat less or avoid certain foods, which can result in poor nutrition. Teeth are also designed to support one another and the jawbone. When a tooth is pulled, it leaves a space around the remaining teeth. If the space is not filled, the surrounding teeth often shift into this space causing additional gaps and/or crowding and bite misalignment. Bite misalignment results in our teeth colliding rather than gliding against one another and can lead to cracks in the teeth or tooth fractures. Areas of the jawbone that have been missing teeth for an extended period of time will also experience bone loss or atrophy. This can cause a change in a person’s facial structure, often making them appear older, and it may even affect their speech. These changes can be embarrassing and can impact one’s self-confidence. 

There are three ways dentists replace missing teeth:

  • Dental Implants are posts made of titanium or other bio-compatible materials that are surgically placed in the jawbone and function as an anchor for a replacement tooth. Implants can be used to replace either a single missing tooth or multiple teeth. They are similar to your natural tooth in that they are secure and stable and are designed to look, feel, and function like a natural tooth. Dental implants are almost always the best option for replacing missing teeth.
  • Bridges can be used when only one or a few teeth are missing. Bridges literally “bridge” the gap where a tooth is missing by preparing the adjacent teeth for crowns, and then a bridge is made (two crowns with the artificial tooth attached between them) and cemented onto these supporting teeth.
  • Dentures are often considered when all or most teeth are missing. They are removable appliances that replace multiple teeth on an arch. Being removable, dentures may feel awkward until a person becomes accustomed to wearing them. Adhesive may be needed for a secure fit, and it is common for dentures to be replaced every 5-10 years as the supporting bone remodels and changes the fit of dentures over time. Dentures can be better supported by placing implants underneath.

If you are interested in replacing a missing tooth or teeth, the first step is always to visit your dentist. They can evaluate your specific case and discuss with you the options available and which option might be best for you.

This article was written by Dr. Kristina Chandler, who practices at Cheek Dental in East Cobb, and originally appeared in our October issue, on page 26. Click here to view our digital edition.