Are You At Risk of Tooth Loss and Serious Oral Health Problems?
You know the story: You’re going about your life, minding your own business—maybe you’re enjoying a cocktail or chewing some gum—and before you know it, all of your teeth fall out. The enamel rains out of your mouth like Tic Tacs and as you flail at them and desperately try to stuff them back in your mouth, it dawns on you that life will never be the same again.
And then you wake up—your heart pounding like a black metal drumbeat; your body coated in a thin layer of sweat.
It’s one of the most common anxiety dreams and experts believe that it stems from the anxieties we have about our appearance. There could also be a power element, as we need those teeth to chew, rip, and tear, and if they all fall out, we lose an element of power and control.
In truth, it’s not all that terrifying to lose your real teeth. Sure, it’ll be pretty scary if they all fall out at the same time, but that doesn’t happen outside of dreams. Still, it’s not an experience that we welcome and people generally try to hold onto their real teeth for as long as they can.
If you’re worried about losing your teeth, keep an eye out for these risk factors, all of which will increase your chances of experiencing multiple tooth loss.
As noted in our guide to tooth loss by age—the older you are, the more likely you are to have lost a few teeth.
Age creates a few problems.
Firstly, your teeth don’t regrow, and if they take sustained damage over the years, whether from trauma, acidity, or poor dental hygiene, they will break down and fall out. They’re strong and they’re resilient, but they can only take so much.
Secondly, the older you are, the more likely you are to have experienced significant trauma, including sports injuries, falls, and even chips and cracks from chowing down on hard food.
Thirdly, we all go through spells where we don’t care for our teeth as well as we should. Maybe you’re on vacation and you forgot your toothbrush. Maybe you have just had a child, aren’t getting much sleep, and don’t have time to think about your dental health. It’s only a few days or weeks, but it takes its toll.
You also have to think about the habits that we adopt over the years, from smoking and heavy drinking to chewing on ice.
Finally, and most impactful of all, the body loses the ability to heal itself as we age and the risk of gum disease increases substantially. The gums weaken and recede, and this makes the teeth loose.
After all, tooth loss is not just the result of cracked, broken, or decayed teeth. If your gums are unhealthy, they won’t be able to hold onto the teeth, and this is where most tooth loss occurs.
Men are often a greater risk than women when it comes to health problems. They are more likely to suffer from heart disease, lung cancer, and oral cancers, and most of this is down to lifestyle. Simply put, men are more likely to make unhealthy choices.
It’s not just their bodies that suffer, either, as the impact can also be seen in their oral health. Tooth loss is more common in men and the gap widens with age. Many men refuse to visit the dentist as often as they should and it’s not uncommon for them to ignore chips, breaks, decay, and general oral health problems for fear of the dentist’s chair (or the dentist’s bill). Of course, such issues are seen in both sexes and at all ages, but they are more common in males.
The good news is that the increased risk is not down to genetics; it’s not something that you can’t control.
If you brush twice a day, floss every day, and see the dentist at least once every 6 months, you will greatly reduce your chances of tooth loss and offset many of the risk factors that see men experience more dental problems than women.
Smoking is one of the worst things that you can do for your health. It’s incredibly destructive and gradually poisons the body, introducing tar and toxic chemicals and increasing the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, COPD, and a host of other ailments.
But the issues are not limited to the body and smoking can also have a seriously detrimental effect on your oral health.
One of the biggest misunderstandings concerning smoking and dental health is that the damage is all down to the tar content. People see smokers with brown, black, and decayed teeth and they assume that it’s the result of a gradual build-up of tar.
It’s true, to some extent, as cigarettes can stain your teeth, but there is something more insidious at play.
Smoking restricts blood flow to your mouth, which prevents the body from healing as quickly or as easily as it should. It essentially weakens the mouth’s defenses, making it easy for bacteria to invade and do its dirty deed.
Smokers are not only more exposed to serious oral and dental diseases, but they also have more plaque, more tartar, and don’t heal as quickly or as cleanly when they suffer from oral lesions.
If you’re a smoker, one of the best things you can do for your oral health is to stub the cigarettes out and never return! And don’t assume that you’re in the clear because you vape, as it’s the nicotine that causes many of the problems and if you’re still ingesting it, you’re still exposing yourself to those issues.
Diabetes takes its toll on your whole body, including your mouth.
It all comes down to bacteria’s best friend: sugar. If you have diabetes, it means you have a lot of sugar in your blood and this can feed the bacteria in your mouth, creating higher levels of harmful bacteria and causing more damage to your teeth and gums.
On the plus side, dental problems caused by diabetes can be managed. Just because you have diabetes, doesn’t mean that you’re definitely going to experience major dental problems, nor does it mean that you will eventually need dentures.
In such cases, it is even more important to follow a strict oral hygiene routine. You should be brushing your teeth for at least 2 minutes a time and at least twice a day. Don’t brush so hard that it will damage your gums, but make sure you’re applying enough pressure to remove the plaque and are moving the brush in short circular motions to cover all of the tooth.
An electric toothbrush can be very effective for cleaning your entire mouth and leaving no enamel untouched. However, it’s not essential and you can make do with a manual brush. What’s important is that you devote those four minutes to brushing every day, preferably in the morning and later in the evening.
You should also floss at least once a day. Water flossers can make this easier, but as with the electric toothbrush, they are not essential. In fact, if you have very tight gaps between your teeth, you may need some dental floss just to get inside and scrape the plaque away.
Use fluoride-based toothpaste to strengthen your teeth and make sure you brush your tongue every now and then, as well.
The vast majority of people brush their teeth first, floss second, and then rinse at the end. If they use mouthwash, it’s often in place of water rinse and is used to wash the toothpaste away. It’s still effective, but it’s not the most optimal process.
Instead, you should floss first, rinse second, and brush to finish.
That way, the floss helps to dislodge all the food particles from your teeth; the rinse removes those particles and other bacteria from your mouth, and the brush ensures that the fluoride toothpaste stays on your teeth, where it can work its magic. If you rinse afterward, you’re washing all of that beneficial mineral away!
Of course, if you have diabetes then you also need to keep that under control. Speak with your doctor, make sure you’re getting the right treatment, and follow whatever advice they give you.
Not Visiting the Dentist
No one likes going to the dentist. Dental treatment is expensive, uncomfortable, invasive, and painful. Many people avoid it and assume that they will be okay, as long as they keep brushing, flossing, and make an appointment as soon as they experience any serious issues.
But you’re treading a very fine line if that’s the attitude that you adopt. Before you know it, you’re dismissing a toothache and pretending that it will go aware on its own; you’re ignoring the foul taste that you have in your mouth and assuming that the broken filling will be fine because it doesn’t hurt too much.
It’s a very slippery slope, and it usually ends with multiple extractions and major surgery. Eventually, all of those problems will catch up with you and when that happens, it may be too late for preventative methods.
It doesn’t matter if everything feels fine or not. You need to book a check-up at least every 6 months just to make sure.
Check-ups are actually the easiest part of visiting the dentist. They are quick, easy, non-invasive, and cheap. Not only can you sail through the appointment without issue, but if you keep going for those check-ups, you will eventually acclimatize yourself to the process and become comfortable with it.
It’s better than the alternative, which is to book an appointment when your gums are bleeding, your teeth are decayed, and you need to book multiple extractions.
A dentist isn’t just there to tell you that everything is okay or to remove teeth. They don’t limit themselves to the extremes. They can also tell you if you have too much calculus and then remove it. They can tell you if you’re producing too much plaque, have sensitive teeth, need straighteners, or are suffering from conditions like bruxism.
As with any health problem, diagnosing these issues early will allow them to be treated quickly, cheaply, and painlessly.
High Blood Pressure
Researchers have found a link between tooth loss and high blood pressure, suggesting that you are more likely to suffer from dental decay and to have multiple missing teeth if you have been diagnosed with hypertension.
However, it is not clear why this connection exists.
In one study, researchers looked at over 35,000 women over a period of two decades and noted that post-menopausal women with multiple tooth loss were 20% more likely to have high blood pressure. Similar conclusions have been drawn elsewhere, but while there are a few theories, there haven’t been any conclusive links.
It’s the old argument of correlation vs causation. In other words, just because something is connected, doesn’t mean that one causes the other.
Take the classic “bad dental health causes heart disease” argument. Researchers found that people with gum disease were significantly more likely to have heart disease. Some people theorized that the bacteria in the mouth were finding their way into the vessels around the heart and causing blockages that could lead to heart disease.
It made sense, but there was no proof that this was actually happening. What’s more, it’s fair to assume that people with severe gum disease are more likely to smoke heavily, drink heavily, abuse drugs, and eat a bad diet than individuals without gum disease.
That doesn’t mean that everyone with gum disease does those things, but that they are more likely to do them than someone without that issue.
All of these things also increase the risk of heart disease, which is likely where the connection came from. But “Not flossing might shorten your lifespan” is more headline-worthy than “People who don’t care about their health are more likely to have gum disease and heart disease” and so that’s the story that everyone heard.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sjögren’s Syndrome
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sjögren’s Syndrome are autoimmune disorders that are associated with higher rates of dental disease and tooth loss. Individuals suffering from these conditions are more likely to have oral infections, oral ulcers, dental pain, and tooth decay.
As with diabetes, simply having these conditions doesn’t mean that you are destined to lose all of your teeth. It is imperative that you maintain an optimal oral hygiene routine and discuss any concerns or issues that you have with your dentist and/or doctor.
Not Brushing as Often as You Should
This one should go without saying, but if you don’t brush your teeth as often as you should, the risk of tooth loss increases significantly.
Your mouth is a haven for bacteria and every time you eat sugars and starches, you’re feeding that bacteria and giving it the means to thrive and do serious harm. If you consume a lot of sugary or starchy foods and then go several days without brushing, the bacteria will begin to eat away at the enamel.
If you have GERD or dry mouth, the risk increases further, and the damage that can be done in that time is significant. Your mouth needs saliva to protect against bacteria and acid. If your mouth is perpetually dry and you’re introducing acid from your stomach and from the food you eat, you’re creating more of a hostile and damaging environment.
Summary: Reducing Your Risk Factors
As you can see, some of these risk factors can be avoided, others cannot. The good news is that none of this really matters, and as long as you brush and floss daily, visit your doctor every 6 months, and be mindful of your diet, you can greatly reduce the rate of tooth loss.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with dentures. They look great, feel great, and are the perfect option for people who have multiple missing teeth or decayed teeth. However, it’s fair to say that we would all prefer to hold onto our real teeth for as long as possible, and maintaining optimal dental health is really the only way to guarantee that.
Tooth loss is not inevitable. Millions of Americans seem to have resigned themselves to the belief that they will lose all of their teeth eventually and there is nothing they can do about it. They assume that it’s just a side effect of getting older, like being predisposed to dehydration and hating modern music. But it’s not, and there are many octogenarians out there who have a near-full set of teeth and still have a Hollywood smile.
They’ve been caring for those teeth all of their life. They have spent many weeks brushing and flossing—many hours rinsing and spitting. They have worked hard to keep those pearly whites pearly white, and the payoff is that they have kept their smiles long into their old age.