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Are You at Risk for Tooth Loss?

How to keep your teeth for a lifetime.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Disembodied dentures smiling back at you from a glass. A sunken-in, toothless face. Hours in a dental chair, awaiting expensive implants.

If images like these give you the heebie-jeebies, take heart. Although tooth loss is common, it's not an inevitable part of aging, says Richard H. Price, DDS, a retired dentist in Newton, Mass., and spokesman for the American Dental Association.

"Teeth do not die a natural death -- we kill them," Price says. Exactly how do we do that? In short, by disease or trauma, Price says.

Tooth Loss from Trauma

"When an irresistible force meets the immovable object, something gives," Price says. Trauma might be anything from getting hit by a baseball to biting on a frozen candy bar.

Your teeth are great tools. But not for things like:

  • Removing caps, tops, or lids
  • Cracking ice cubes, nut shells, or popcorn kernels
  • Chewing on pencils or pens
  • Holding clothes hangers
  • Loosening knots or tearing off tags
  • Cutting thread

Clenching and grinding - often done in response to stress -- can also put too much stress on your teeth. It can also mean a bite is unbalanced, Price says. Both deserve your attention.

Tooth Loss From Disease

Plaque -- bacterial buildup that resides in sticky stuff on your teeth -- causes decay and can lead to periodontal disease, which inflames gums and destroys supporting tissues such as ligaments and bones. And with their demise can come loose -- and eventually lost -- teeth.

Poor oral hygiene and lack of professional care are big contributors.

Other factors that put you at greater risk for periodontal disease and potential tooth loss include:

  • Smoking
  • Poor nutrition
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Arthritis

Changing hormones during pregnancy can also affect a woman's response to disease. So it's especially important to get regular professional care throughout pregnancy.

People with developmental and other disabilities are at greater risk as well, due to the challenges of home care. This means caregivers need to be creative about helping with this task.

Early onset of periodontal disease is another concern. "If I see a patient under 40 with periodontal disease, that's worrisome to me because I know this person will be particularly susceptible," says Donald S. Clem III, DDS, a periodontist in Fullerton, Calif., and the 2010-2011 president of the American Academy of Periodontology.

Keep Your Dentist Appointments

Dental care to prevent tooth loss is a partnership between you and your dentist. Make those routine appointments and keep them.

How often you need to go depends on your particular case. Twice a year is typical, but if you have gum disease, you may need to go more often.

Make sure your dentist is doing a complete periodontal evaluation at least yearly, Clem says. This includes measuring spaces under gums with a periodontal probe and getting a complete set of X-rays to assess bone levels.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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