The effects of aging are almost always visible. Whether it’s graying hair or the wrinkling of the skin, advancing age isn’t something that can normally be hidden (whatever the cosmetic manufacturers would have you believe).
But, what about the changes that take place beneath the surface, particularly in the face and mouth?
As we grow older, our facial bones—including our eye sockets, nose and upper jaw—continue to change. For example, our eye sockets enlarge, and the angle of the bones beneath our eyebrows decreases, which could contribute to the formation of frown lines on our foreheads, “crow’s feet” at the corners of our eyes, and droopy lower eyelids. As we age, the facial skeleton experiences morphologic change and an overall decrease in volume.
In addition to face shape, the loss of teeth can also lead to problems, starting with the ease of eating nutrient-dense foods. This can lead to other health issues and exasperate other problems, too.
Keep reading to learn more about changes in facial shape and the dental advancements that can help with tooth loss, aging and quality-of-life.
Teeth as support
Tooth and bone loss can change the shape of your facial structure, altering your overall appearance. In the U.S., 70% of the population is missing at least one tooth, usually a back tooth. The “6-year molars” are the first permanent teeth to erupt into the mouth and, unfortunately, are often the first teeth to be lost as a result of decay, failed endodontic therapy or fracture.
Tooth loss destabilizes the entire structure of the jaw. With an empty root socket, space is created, allowing teeth to shift. Empty sockets also weaken the bone tissue and eventually lead to the bone tissues breaking down and wearing away.
Losing teeth in early adulthood can significantly alter a person’s face. Facial sagging can cause premature aging and can take a toll on a patient’s self-confidence. By age 45, changes in facial structure are already visible in the form of sunken cheeks. By 60, cheeks and lips lose their support, resulting in an aging look. This process continues and if the teeth are not replaced, much of the structural support of the person’s face is lost.
To get into the technical side, these changes are driven by bone loss. Without constant stimulation (like through chewing), the bone in our jaws can begin to break down. Bone can ultimately lose volume, width and height. There is a 25% decrease in width of bone during the first year after tooth loss, and an overall 4mm decrease in its height over the next few years.
As the bone diminishes, the next layer of bone also begins to “resorb.” This means it’s resorbed into the bone of the jaw itself. The lower part of the face begins to collapse, and the cheeks become hollow. This effect is especially noticeable for people with no teeth.
In addition to physical ramifications in the face, a patient can also suffer full-body health effects from tooth loss due to the inability to eat a full range of foods. Without healthy teeth, many patients admit that they rely on soft, often carb-dense foods since they are the easiest to eat.
Not only does that mean that a patient is not eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, they might also suffer the ill consequences of a heavily sugar-laden diet. When carbohydrates and sugar are left on the teeth for too long they can lead to plaque buildup and gingivitis. Ironically, if decay occurs and is not resolved it could lead to additional tooth loss.
Tooth replacement options
The negative consequences of toothlessness cause many people to explore dental implants or denatures.
First, dental implants are available for almost anyone who has lost any teeth; patient-by-patient eligibility is determined by your dentist. Manufactured from titanium, dental implants are built to bond with the bone during the healing process. The benefits of implants are that they look and function like natural teeth, and their simple presence helps to maintain the structure of the jaw and the face. Having a sturdy tooth allows for chewing and muscle development and prevents sagging.
Some patients choose to explore dentures which, unlike implants, are removable. A denture is the removable replacement for missing teeth and surrounding tissues. Two types of dentures are available: complete and partial dentures. Depending on what type is chosen, getting a set of dentures could take upwards of twelve weeks since many time teeth have to be pulled and gums have to be given time to heal. Many people are concerned about their ability to eat or speak with dentures; however, if dentures are fitted properly, patients should be able to lead a very normal life. And, just like implants, dentures can restore your smile and bring structure back to your face.
Many patients we see with tooth loss admit they have avoided treatment for some time due to cost. A full set of dentures can set a patient back more than $3,000. However, the cost of dentures is dependent upon the conditions within your mouth, the types of materials being used, the techniques used by the dentist or prosthodontist, as well as the location and general operating costs of the dental office.
Denture care is also an ongoing service to maintain a healthy mouth. What many patients don’t realize is that there is a service aspect connected to complete denture care, which includes modification of dentures over time to eliminate “sore spots” or to improve how the teeth fit for chewing and to correct the look of or adjust the dentures to make them more stable. It is important to get the servicing side correct, otherwise more harm could be done to the mouth.
If you suffer tooth loss and are interested in learning more about your options to retain quality of life as well as facial shape, call our office today.