What a question! Anything to do with our pearly whites comes with medical, emotional and practical considerations. In an emotional sense as well as a very physical sense, teeth are hard. In fact, the outermost layer of our teeth (enamel) is the hardest substance in the human body.
It’s natural to think that our teeth can last a lifetime, right? Sure, they can. But they’re not indestructible. In fact, there are many surprisingly common scenarios where a tooth extraction is necessary. Tooth extraction happens for a variety of different reasons, but is usually your dentist’s “last resort.”
We all have the perception that tooth extraction is something scary. And if we’re honest, it’s normal to be nervous about the idea of tools going inside your mouth to leave in the end with one of your teeth clenched in their metal jaw.
However, the truth is a little different. Did you know that every year, ten million wisdom teeth are extracted from approximately five million Americans (read more in this public health study)? That number goes even higher if we include other types of teeth extracted to get teeth (usually of adolescents) lined up nicely for braces.
The point is, tooth extraction happens for many reasons, some of which are healthy and normal. Any dentist will be extremely experienced with this procedure, so your doubts might be quelled by simply reaching out.
Ok, so tooth extraction is safe. It’s normal. But what about the aftermath?
Although the procedure of extracting a tooth is safe and practiced frequently, tooth extraction can have both lifestyle and emotional consequences that are important to talk openly about. In this article, we will discuss the major reasons your dentist might recommend a tooth extraction as well as what the psychological and physical challenges are of missing one or more teeth. And finally, we’ll talk about the available solutions for after an extraction.
Major reasons for tooth extraction
Teeth are often extracted because of tooth or gum disease, trauma or crowding (ADA). If your dentist can’t treat a diseased or traumatized tooth with other methods, then a tooth extraction takes place. Let’s examine some of the major reasons that lead to an extraction.
Severe tooth decay and periodontitis
When tooth decay becomes severe, it can reach the heart of our tooth, technically referred to as the pulp. The pulp is the place where the blood vessels and nerves of our tooth are contained. If tooth decay manages to get that far, it can infect and eventually kill a tooth. If the infection is not treated in time, a tooth extraction will be performed to avoid the infection from spreading to the gums or other teeth.
On the other hand, gingivitis, which is typically formed due to poor oral hygiene, is an infection that started in the gums. If gingivitis is not properly treated, it can lead to periodontitis, which is a severe oral health condition and can result in tooth loss in a similar sequence events like those described above.
Both gingivitis and periodontitis can be prevented with proper oral hygiene and regular visits to your dentist. Take a look at this Josey Lane article about whole-body health if you want to learn more about these two conditions and ways to avoid them.
If a tooth has been severely damaged by some sort of accident and can’t be saved with methods like fillings and crowns, an extraction might be necessary. The tooth will be removed by your dentist to prevent infection. In the case you take a blow to the face or a tooth is damaged in an accident, in some cases it can be saved if you act fast. Take a look at our simple dental solutions article to see how.
There are several factors that can cause overcrowded teeth. Some of them include irregular tooth size and jaw placement. If overcrowded teeth issues cannot be fixed by methods like braces, an extraction might be necessary for enough space to be available for the rest of the teeth to be properly aligned.
This enigmatic “other” category includes wisdom teeth extractions, which most of us do not really need. In addition, inflamed or swollen teeth may also have to be removed if severe infections occur to avoid spreading the infection to the rest of the body (it’s not just about protecting other teeth).
Does our life change after a tooth extraction?
Missing one or more teeth can have an impact on a patient’s lifestyle and psychology. It can bring physical difficulties like having a hard time eating or speaking, and can also affect our appearance and, ultimately, our confidence.
For starters, the functionality and aesthetics of your smile can be negatively impacted by gaps from missing teeth. And you can lose more than an immediate sense of confidence, too; according to recent studies, smiling (or the lack thereof) can re-program your brain’s levels of happiness, and has been linked to a person’s success in love, friendship, work, and health (read all about it in the “does happiness lead to success” study). And of course, we don’t need numbers to know that it can be a huge blow to our confidence if we feel the need to hide our teeth from other people.
In addition, if you are missing several teeth, the skin around your mouth will not be supported properly and will start to sag, which can alter your face shape to the point that many patients report looking “older” than they are (American Academy of Periodontology).
Aside from psychological factors, missing teeth can also physically affect us. Chewing foods will become harder, and it can also affect the way we speak. In addition, healthy teeth be left exposed and therefore become more easily damaged if teeth are missing around them. And if even a single tooth is missing, it can make the opposite tooth gradually extrude or cause other “bite” problems (due to not having contact with the missing tooth when you close your mouth).
Tooth replacement solutions
To begin with, no patient will be alone in missing one or more teeth! According to the American College of Prosthodontists, more than 36 million Americans have no natural teeth at all, and around 120 million Americans are missing at least one tooth. In addition, thanks to the advancement of technology and medicine, there are now options available to help you avoid each and every one of the implications of missing teeth. Let’s take a look at these options with all their updates in recent years.
Dentures come in two primary options: full or partial. A full denture is used if there are no remaining teeth in your mouth, unlike partial dentures, which are used if you still have some healthy teeth. Adding more segments to the mix, some dentures are removable while others are fixed.
With any type of denture, you’ll be able to talk, smile and chew with no problem, though some of the temporary or less expensive options might have less stability or require more maintenance. You can learn more about the dentures available today in this article about dentures versus overdentures.
Dental bridges do exactly what you might imagine! They bridge the gaps created by missing teeth, by anchoring pontics (fake teeth) on both teeth at the sides of the gap. Dental bridges are not removable and will bring the same benefits as dentures. In addition, some types of dental bridges can be more durable and function better than dentures, but dentures typically last longer. And as a final consideration, a dental bridge will typically cost a little more than dentures.
In all-things tooth replacement, the last option to talk about are dental implants. This option involves fixing a metal (titanium) base surgically into your jawbone, then mounting a replacement tooth on top of it.
To begin with, this is the ideal option for most patients only missing one tooth or a few. Dental implants are exceptionally stable and will make your mouth and smile feel and look natural, because they blend so perfectly in with your natural teeth (the crown placed on top of the implant being crafted specifically for your smile). The potential cons for patients considering dental implants might be the cost or the time commitment, as it can take up to six months for the jaw bone to grow around the titanium base of the implant for the crown to be adhered.
Tooth extraction can come with some hard life changes to navigate, both in your physical and emotional health. Though, thanks advancements of technology and medicine, there are many options to help you feel confident, functional and healthy. If you do are facing or have already gone through a tooth extraction, ask your dentist for the best option for you.