You might have memories of your grandparents or great-grandparents popping out their "false teeth" for fun when you were a child. While it might have seemed funny to you at the time, as an adult, the thought of losing your teeth is likely something that you can't see the humor in. Since approximately 600 A.D., humans were trying to find ways to replace lost teeth, so this is not a problem affecting only the people of today. With advances in dental care and oral hygiene options, however, it's more likely than ever that you can keep most of your natural teeth for a lifetime. Read on for some ways to improve your chances of keeping your pearly whites and avoiding tooth loss over the long haul.
Care For Your Gums
You've heard it said a million times: Brush and floss the teeth you want to keep. It's not simply an idiom; it's true! Not only does brushing and flossing prevent cavities, which, if allowed to grow, can cause tooth loss, but these activities also keep your gums nice and healthy. This, in turn, can keep your teeth well-anchored where they're supposed to be.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that half of Americans have some type of gum disease. Ranging from simple and easily reversed gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) to severe periodontal disease leading to bone loss, gum disease leads not only to the loss of teeth, but also to the potential development of diabetes and heart disease.
So, how to best care for your gums? Brush your teeth at least twice daily, and floss each night before you go to bed. Ask your dental hygienist to evaluate how well you're reaching the various areas of your mouth at your next dental cleaning. In short, take care of your teeth and gums so they can continue to take care of you.
Nip Problems in the Bud
Seeing your dental hygienist every six months is one key to keeping your teeth and gums healthy, but what about all of the time in between visits? If you notice a wiggly filling or an increased sensitivity to hot and cold, you need to get into the office as soon as possible. Do not let problems fester until your next visit! This is asking for bigger, more expensive problems, and potentially the loss of the tooth.
For example, a loose filling can be replaced in a half hour or so if you simply go to the dentist as soon as you notice it. Wait a few months, however, and decay is likely to take hold under the filling. It might spread into the pulp chamber of your tooth, causing intense pain and the need for root canal therapy. After a root canal, the tooth is going to be brittle and might require a crown to keep it from breaking. While you're waiting for the crown, the tooth could break, necessitating removal.
Don't Use Your Teeth as Tools
If you are of the mindset that your teeth make not only a handy bottle opener, but a great ice-crusher as well, you might find that you're in danger of needing dental implants sooner, rather than later. Your teeth are for chewing food, contributing to a lovely smile, and helping you speak, full stop. Using your teeth as tools can lead to tiny cracks that, over time, can allow decay under the surface. You could also crack a tooth right in half, which is painful as well as damaging.
Invest in a good bottle-opener and protect your teeth.
Replace Any Teeth That You Do Lose
Finally, it's important to be proactive in saving your other teeth if you do need to have one extracted. Once a tooth is pulled, you will have some bone loss in that area. This can cause the bone and gums to recede around neighboring teeth, making it more likely that you'll lose them, too. In addition, with nothing to hit against when you close your mouth, the opposing tooth (directly over or under the empty hole) can begin to grow out of its socket more, making it more likely to become loose in the future.
It's a vicious cycle, and one that you can break by having any extracted teeth replaced right away. Talk to your dentist about whether you can have a dental implant placed at the time of extraction. In some cases, this can be done immediately. Other patients might find that a bridge or a partial denture is a better choice. Regardless of your situation, ask your dentist how you can prevent one extraction from leading to more widespread tooth loss.