No one wants missing teeth, but there’s more to tooth loss than a potential for embarrassment. Losing a tooth can cause ongoing health problems that require expensive surgeries to fix. Whether you’ve lost a tooth and you’re weighing the benefits of dental implants or you’re looking for a more complete picture of why good dental hygiene is important, knowing about these tooth-loss side effects is critical. So let’s dive in.
The jawbone, in normal circumstances, is exposed to near-constant stimulus. When we talk, eat, and simply sit with our mouths closed, the jaw is stimulated through the teeth.
And without that stimulation, jaw bone (and the surrounding gum tissue) atrophies (dissolves). Quickly.
This atrophy can cause significant aesthetic changes for people with missing teeth, as the recession of their gum tissue, the thinning of their jaw bone, and the resultant changes in their jaw muscles can have a notable impact on their facial features.
As time goes on, this process also makes the individual more susceptible to infections and subsequent cases of tooth loss. This has a synergistic effect, accelerating the atrophy and worsening the facial changes.
There is no singular solution to the facial changes that can follow tooth loss; you can’t halt atrophy, and bone atrophy (also known as bone reabsorption) isn’t readily reversible. Proper dental care can prevent it, and expensive cosmetic surgery can compensate for it, but the core problem is hard to address.
Your teeth play an important role in the biomechanics of your jaw. When you lose a tooth, it doesn’t just create a visual imbalance; it also changes how your jaw moves and feels. And for some people, that change can cause a lot of pain.
How your jaw moves and rests is influenced by your bite pattern. Losing a tooth changes that bite pattern, giving your other teeth room to shift. Both the immediate and long-term changes in your bite pattern create an imbalance in your jaw movement, leading to TMJ, tooth pain, headaches, and even migraines.
TMJ, or Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, can be an expensive problem. TMJ involves the chronic inflammation of the tissues in the jaw joints, and ongoing TMJ problems can create uneven wearing of the bones themselves. While surgical options are available, they’re considered a last resort; treating TMJ is a long, slow, incremental process.
When you lose a tooth, your gums don’t heal perfectly. They remain vulnerable to bacterial infection, and the socket that’s left after the tooth is gone can be incredibly hard to clean. This can lead to the formation of bacterial pockets beneath the gum line that can expand and migrate, consuming muscle, the roots of other teeth, and bone tissue in your face and jaw. In some cases, the infection can migrate to your sinuses.
The cost of removing removing such an infection can be incredibly high. In order to prevent the infection from spreading, the surgeon has to remove a significant amount of infected tissue and manage the healing process through multiple surgeries, coordinating with cosmetic surgeons in order to replace the removed tissue. A missing tooth that isn’t cared for can lead to six-digit debt if infection sets in.
Implants Aren’t a Perfect Solution
The complications described above are all expensive and time consuming—and surprisingly frequent. Dental implants are a common solution, and they’re often the recommended solution for patients who are young enough and healthy enough for the procedure, however prevention is still the most important step in this situation. Tooth loss should not be considered an inevitable or unavoidable part of life; teeth are amazingly resilient (when they’re taken care of) and the effort you put into them will pay off.
And remember: the primary cause of tooth loss isn’t physical injury. It’s tooth decay. That means that the majority of dental implants are provided to patients with insufficient oral hygiene habits, who could have significantly reduced their risk factors (and therefore their medical expenses) by making better choices earlier in life.
So how much is a missing tooth worth? A dental implant usually costs less than $10,000, most commonly falling in the $3000 to $6000 range. TMJ surgeries can cost up to $50,000, depending on the complexity, while the procedures needed to remove an infection can range from $800 for a single root canal to over $100,000 for a maxillofacial infection.
A missing tooth is more expensive than you’d think.