Tooth loss is a very common problem. More than 178 million Americans are missing at least one tooth. When people lose one of their front teeth, they tend to prioritize replacing it, but many people think that missing molars aren't a big deal since no one can see them. Unfortunately, a single missing molar can harm your oral health in a few ways.
Your jawbone will start to break down
Your teeth are attached to your jawbone by strong ligaments. These ligaments stimulate the jawbone, and remind it to rebuild itself constantly. There is no longer a ligament underneath your missing molar, so the jawbone in that area is not getting the stimulation it needs. Over time, the bone tissue underneath your missing tooth will wear away without being rebuilt. This causes the bone to shrink.
This process happens more quickly than you might expect. If your molar has been missing for a year, you've already lost 25% of your jawbone's width in that region. If your molar has been missing for a few years, your jawbone has also lost height. This process will continue happening until you get your tooth replaced.
Why does it matter if a portion of your jawbone shrinks? Weaker bones are more likely to break.
Your remaining teeth will shift positions
When all of your teeth are present, they hold each other in place. Teeth can't move around in your mouth when they have another tooth firmly fixed on each side. Now that your molar is missing, the surrounding teeth aren't held in place, and they can drift around in your mouth. This can cause unsightly gaps or crowding, but this problem is more than just a cosmetic problem.
Crowded teeth are a health issue for a couple of reasons. First, they make it harder for you to keep your teeth clean. Some surfaces of your teeth may be blocked by nearby teeth, or the teeth may be too close together to allow a strand of floss between them. This increases your risk of tooth decay, and eventually, tooth loss. The second problem is that you're more likely to break a tooth if your teeth are crowded or crooked. This is because your teeth are put under more stress than they can handle.
Replacing your missing molar will keep your remaining teeth in their proper places and help you avoid the problems that crooked or crowded teeth can bring.
You can develop jaw disorders
When your teeth shift, your bite pattern changes as well. Your teeth won't fit together in the same way that they used to, and you may have trouble biting or chewing your food. Trying to compensate for your new bite pattern leads to strain in the muscles and bones that make up your jaw joint. This can lead to a painful condition called temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD for short. TMD causes pain in the jaw joint, and sometimes in the surrounding area. You may notice a clicking sensation in your jaw joint when you open or close your mouth. In severe cases, the jaw may lock in an open or closed position.
Replacing your missing molar is important because it will preserve your normal bite pattern and keep your jaw joint from working too hard.
A missing molar may seem like it's not an issue, but even though nobody can see your missing tooth, it's still very important that you get it replaced. The best way to do this is with a dental implant. Dental implants are attached directly to your jawbone, which will simulate the ligaments that you used to have, protecting your jawbone. The implant will also help keep your remaining teeth in place, and your jaw joint healthy.
For more information, contact a local dentist, like Darryl A. Field, DDS, PA Periodontics & Implant Dentistry.