dentist holding dentures a treatment for edentulism

Edentulism – What Is It and How Can You Prevent It?

We all want that beautiful pearly white smile. But unfortunately, not everyone can naturally achieve that goal. Millions of Americans suffer from edentulism or tooth loss. And as you may have suspected, it’s a common condition for older adults.

According to the CDC, one-quarter of adults aged 65 or older have eight or fewer teeth, and about 1 in 6 or 17 percent of adults aged 65 or older have lost all of their teeth. This certainly isn’t anything someone asks for, so what causes edentulism, and how can you prevent it from happening?

Types of Edentulism

People can suffer from two types of edentulism – partial and complete.

Partial edentulism is when there is only partial tooth loss. Individuals affected by this type still have some of their natural teeth. Tooth loss is much more common on the upper jaw than on the lower jaw.

People who have lost all of their natural teeth have complete edentulism. Once people begin losing their teeth, there is no way to reverse the condition, which ultimately leads to this type of edentulism.

What Causes Edentulism?

In order to prevent this condition from beginning, it’s important to know what causes it. Edentulism can occur for many reasons. Some you have control over, and some you don’t. Some of the most common causes include:

Poor Oral Care: The leading cause of tooth loss is cavities and gum disease. Generally speaking, the better your oral care, the better your chances of preventing edentulism. Tooth decay left untreated can cause permanent damage to the teeth forcing the dentist to have to extract it. Periodontal diseases, such as those that affect the gums, are a major cause of tooth loss. Gum disease affects the jaw bone, the tooth’s main structure. When it becomes weakened, teeth become loose and fall out or eventually have to be removed.

Osteoporosis: We just mentioned how important of a role your jaw bone plays in maintaining your healthy smile. Osteoporosis is a condition that affects your bones, causing them to become weakened and susceptible to fractures. So, someone with osteoporosis is at risk of their jaw bone becoming dense and unable to house and hold their teeth.

Poor Diet: Certain diets can severely affect the health of your teeth. A diet high in sugar and carbs is a culprit of tooth decay. Sugar leads to plaque, which over time eats away at the enamel on your teeth, thus leading to cavities. There is also a strong link between malnutrition and poor oral health. Lacking proper nutrients can cause your teeth and gums to break down, eventually resulting in edentulism.

Certain Medications: Several medications can cause side effects that directly impact the health of your mouth and teeth. For example, many medications lead to dry mouth, creating a feeding ground for bacteria. That then can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

Smoking and Vaping: This habit leads to poor oral health through gum disease and severe plaque. In addition, the nicotine from smoking and vaping restricts blood flow to areas in your body as well as your mouth. Your gums are living tissue that relies on nutrients and oxygen to stay healthy. So, when blood flow is restricted, your gum tissue begins to die. This can result in loss of teeth.

Who’s At Risk for Edentulism?

Now that you know some of the causes let’s talk about some of the risk factors. Unfortunately, many of the risk factors you can’t avoid. You just have to be cognizant and take preventative measures to try to overcome them. And, of course, control the risk factors you can.

Age: More than 70 percent of seniors who are 65 years of age or older suffer from some form of periodontal disease. This condition is more common in men than women. Your risk of developing gum disease only continues to increase the older you get, so it’s imperative you do all that you can to prevent gum disease, which could result in edentulism.

Genetics: Your genes can play a role in whether you lose teeth or not. If other people in your family have lost teeth, you are at a greater risk of also suffering from tooth loss.

Gender: Because women undergo hormonal changes during menopause, they are more susceptible to losing teeth than men. This is because of the decrease in estrogen levels, a hormone that helps to keep women’s bones strong and healthy.

Certain Illnesses: If you suffer from certain conditions, you could be at a greater risk for edentulism. Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, and heart disease might make you more prone to tooth loss.

partial dentures to treat edentulism

Treatment for Edentulism

There are a few different restorative and cosmetic treatment approaches to edentulism. Dentists can replace missing teeth with partial dentures, a tooth bridge, or dental implants for partial edentulism. Dental implants are implant-supported prosthetics that use artificial tooth roots that are screwed into your jaw. This is done for individual teeth.

For complete edentulism, dentists will usually provide dentures or a tooth bridge as options. A tooth bridge is made up of artificial teeth attached to a metallic frame, which is then placed where the teeth used to be.

Prevent Edentulism With Proper Oral Care

Preventing tooth loss may not always be possible, but there are preventative measures you can take to avoid gum disease and other oral diseases that may impact your teeth. The best way to prevent edentulism is through proper oral care. This includes brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing daily, and having routine dental exams performed.

Losing teeth does more than just affect your appearance; it affects your facial structure and your health. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Take steps to ensure you have a healthy smile that keeps you looking and feeling your best.