Will I Need Dentures in my Life? An Honest Assessment
Contrary to what you might think, dentures are not inevitable. Teeth are strong and resilient, and if you look after them, they will remain long after your hair has turned grey and you’ve lost all interest in modern music. They’re a great option to have if you ever lose most or all of your teeth, but if the idea scares you, there are a few ways that you can prevent it.
It all comes down to the risk factors for tooth loss. The more of these boxes that you tick the more likely you are to lose all of your teeth and need dentures. With that said, let’s highlight some of the biggest risk factors for tooth loss and see what you can do about it.
Do You Smoke?
A man who smokes is 3.5x more likely to have multiple missing teeth than a man who doesn’t smoke, and the number drops to 2.5x for women.
Roughly 1 in 10 Americans aged between 50 and 64 have no teeth which means that you have a 10% chance of having no teeth between these ages. If we use these figures as a baseline, it suggests that you have between a 25% and 35% chance of losing all of your teeth as a smoker.
Of course, that “1 in 10” includes smokers, so it’s not exactly 25% to 35%, but it’s certainly a scary number and it’s likely a lot higher than many smokers realize.
The problem with smoking is that it restricts blood flow in your mouth and reduces its ability to heal itself. The gums become hard and begin to recede. They are also more prone to gum disease because when the blood doesn’t flow as easily and the body can’t heal itself, the bacteria is allowed to run rampant.
Staining and decay are other problems to consider and may hasten the rate of tooth loss.
Do You Brush?
If you skip your dental hygiene, you run the risk of experiencing tooth decay and losing some of your teeth. It is recommended that you brush at least twice a day and for at least 2 minutes every time. You should also floss at least once a day.
It’s information that we all know, and yet millions ignore the advice. Over 30% of Americans aren’t brushing as much as they should, and many more aren’t flossing on a daily basis, either.
If you don’t brush your teeth at all, your chances of needing dentures are near to 100%, which should come as no surprise. But even if you’re brushing once every other day, it’s still more likely than not that you will need dentures.
Luck is just not on your side at that point, and you’re giving the bacteria a chance to thrive and flourish. When you eat, small food particles become trapped in your teeth and feed the bacteria. It gradually damages your teeth, and if you go several days without brushing or flossing, that food hangs around and allows the bacteria to spread.
Do You Have Any Missing Teeth?
If you have missing teeth right now, you are more likely to suffer from complete tooth loss in the future. Habits stay with us for life, and missing teeth suggest that you have adopted dietary, hygiene, or lifestyle habits that will stay with you over the long term.
It’s not just about your habits and the choices that you make, either. Individuals with multiple gaps in their mouth may experience more problems as their remaining teeth lean into those gaps and create crevices that are hard to clean. There is a certain domino effect at play here and the more teeth you have lost, the bigger the impact will be.
Do You See the Dentist at the First Sign of Trouble?
Dentists are not there for emergencies only. You should arrange a check-up at least once every 6 months. That way, you’re giving them a chance to catch any issues before they spiral out of control, as opposed to simply reacting to the problem when it has revealed itself.
It’s preventative and not responsive, and it’s key to maintaining optimal dental health.
Even if everything feels and looks fine, you need to keep those appointments.
For example, your dentist might discover some wearing of your molars and determine that you have bruxism, which means that you are grinding your teeth, often while you are sleeping and don’t even realize you’re doing it. If so, you could be gradually damaging your teeth and gums, and it’s information that will prove essential if you are even fitted for dentures.
They may notice some tartar on your teeth, in which case it needs to be removed, lest it lead to some serious decay further down the line.
Do You Have a High-Risk Profession or Hobby?
Do you work behind a desk all day or are you a stuntman? Do you work in a high school or earn your living on the football field? Trauma is not one of the biggest risk factors for tooth loss but it’s still something that can increase your chances of experiencing tooth loss and requiring dentures.
If you suffer any blows to the mouth or jaw, it can damage your gums, teeth, and your jawbone. Even if it doesn’t harm your teeth now, it may lead to some serious issues in the future.
In a study that was published in 2010, researchers looked at 41 patients who had sustained dentoalveolar damage (the bone that supports the teeth) before the age of 10. The subjects were at least 16-years-old by the time of the study and there was a total of 68 traumatized teeth among them.
At the point of trauma, only 7.4% of the teeth were lost. Up to 16 years later, 35.6% of these teeth were lost, with the main causes including root canal fillings and root resorption.
It suggests that even if you suffer damage now and think that you have escaped without issue, it might catch up with you. As someone who regularly exposes their mouth to harm, your risk of experiencing this kind of trauma is significantly higher than the general population.
Do You Have Any Oral Pain?
There is no smoke without fire and there is no pain without problems. Even if your pain stays for several days and then disappears, it doesn’t mean that you escaped without issue. It means that there is something nefarious at play and you need to get it checked out.
Dental pain can be alleviated with a little clove oil or alcohol mouthwash. You can take some anti-inflammatory drugs as well. These things will take the pain away temporarily and might provide you with some long-term relief, but that doesn’t mean the source of the problem has gone as well.
You Have a Dental Phobia
Odontophobia is going to make you think twice about booking an appointment whenever you have an issue. It’ll make you run for the hills when you have dental pain or notice a spot of bleeding. At the very least, it’s going to prolong the waiting periods and allow bacteria to do its worst and turn your minor problems into major ones.
Estimates suggest that over a third of all Americans have some kind of dental phobia and that approximately 1 in 10 has an extreme phobia.
Do You Have Multiple Fillings?
More fillings mean you went through periods of poor dental hygiene, bad diet, and other high-risk factors. On the plus side, it means that you are willing to visit the dentist when there is an issue, but it suggests that you’re reacting and not anticipating; fixing and not maintaining, and that’s a big problem when it comes to dental health.
Do You Have Dental Insurance?
In the United States, there is a massive disparity between people who have dental insurance and people who don’t. Those without insurance are more likely to avoid necessary dental appointments and abstain for as long as they can. They are less likely to arrange check-ups, pay for professional cleanings and fillings, and fix problematic teeth.
If you’re not insured, you probably don’t have the cash to cover treatments out of your own pocket, and that’s a problem for a country that has some of the most expensive healthcare in the world. It’s one of the reasons why there has been a sharp increase in dental tourism, with many Americans preferring to hop on a plane and fly hundreds of miles than pay the high fees charged by their local practitioners.
Do You Drink or Abuse Drugs?
We’ve all heard about the horror stories caused by the use of stimulants like methamphetamine. “Meth mouth” is a dentist’s worst nightmare, and it’s not much fun for the patient, either.
Methamphetamine is a highly acidic drug that dries out the mouth. Acid wears away the teeth and accelerates the rate of decay—saliva is the body’s first line of defense against it. If you increase the acidity in your mouth and take the saliva away, you have a recipe for disaster. The drug is also known to increase cravings for sugary foods and drinks while making the user edgy and causing them to grind their teeth.
The icing on the cake is that a methamphetamine addict is unlikely to care much about their oral health. Even if they were to brush twice a day, it probably wouldn’t prevent tooth loss, but it would certainly slow down the rate of decay and might be enough to help occasional users. For heavy users who rarely brush or never brush, extreme decay is inevitable.
Other drugs can have a similar effect, as can alcohol. Any time you abuse drugs, you’re putting your body under a great deal of stress and interrupting the natural processes that keep it strong and healthy.
As far as the mouth is concerned, most of the issues are caused by dry mouth and acidity. You can never underestimate the damage that can be caused by limited saliva production.
Do You Take Any Medications?
If you think that you’re protected from the damage caused by illicit drugs because you only take what you’re prescribed, think again!
Opioids are some of the worst offenders when it comes to dry mouth. Even with relatively small doses, these drugs can strip all moisture from your mouth and leave your teeth exposed to harm. The fact that your mouth is very dry may leave you with a foul taste, causing you to reach for milky coffee and sugary soda, as opposed to healthy water.
It’s not quite as bad as meth, but it’s a similar combination of sugar, acidity, and dry mouth that creates a perfect storm of dental decay. The longer you take medications like this, the higher your risk of developing serious tooth decay.
Are Your Genetics Working Against You?
Your genetics can have a major impact on your physical and oral health and may have more effect than some of the factors outlined above. You can quit smoking, brush daily, get dental insurance, and abstain from drugs and alcohol, and still be a victim of your genetics.
Thankfully, the impact of genetics is rarely that severe but it could still make a sizeable difference. Some genes make you more prone to suffering from tooth decay in your permanent teeth. Misaligned teeth also run in families and as they can be harder to clean and more prone to damage, it increases the risk of tooth decay.
Take a look at your parents and grandparents. Did they have any serious problems with tooth decay and tooth loss? Did they wear dentures? Of course, their issues could have been related to poor dental hygiene and smoking, so it’s not a certainty that you will end up the same way, but it does mean that you need to be a little more cautious.
Other Risk Factors for Wearing Dentures
As you can see, there are a lot of things that could lead to tooth loss and leave you needing a set of dentures. But that’s not all, and there are some other things that could leave you at a disadvantage. The following stats come from a report published by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, which looked at “tooth loss in adults” aged between 20 and 64.
- Your Ethnicity: Mexican Americans are much less likely to lose all of their teeth than White and Black Americans. In fact, the study suggests that there are more than twice as many White and Black Americans without any of their teeth. The difference between White and Black is minor, with the percentage leaning slightly higher toward the latter. The report did not include information on Asian Americans.
- Your Sex: It is often said that men are much less likely to care for their teeth than women, and the studies back those claims. However, the difference is slight and while men have more fillings, less aesthetically pleasing teeth, and are more likely to skip a dental appointment, they only have slightly higher rates of edentulism.
- Your Education: Education is closely tied to wealth, and the more money you have, the more likely you are to pay for necessary dental treatments. The study noted that individuals with less than a high school education were nearly five times more likely to lose all of their teeth than those with an education above high school level.
- Your Age: As to be expected, your age plays a big role when it comes to tooth loss and dentures. Individuals between the ages of 35 and 49 are nearly 4x less likely to have lost all of their teeth than those aged between 50 and 64.
Summary: The Probability of Wearing Dentures
If you tick all or most of the boxes above, the odds are definitely not in your favor and there is a high chance that you will need dentures at some point in your life. That’s the bad news, but there is some good news.
It is never too late to make a change and if you reverse the habits outlined above, you will greatly increase your chances of keeping your real teeth for years to come. Quitting smoking is the biggest one, as you’re constantly swimming against the tide if you smoke and are trying to hold onto your real teeth long into your old age. But it is also very important to brush your teeth at least twice a day and for two minutes at a time.
If you brush regularly and see your dentist as soon as you feel a little pain or notice any decay, your chances of keeping your teeth increase significantly. They will fix the problem before it becomes serious and before you experience any major incidents. If you can get those things right, you should be safe, and you still have a great chance of holding onto your teeth for decades to come.