If you spend much time on social media, you may have seen something like this meme crop up in your feed recently:

missing tooth and eyebrow meme

Its message is powerful, to be sure, but it also suggests that the problem of missing teeth is mainly a cosmetic one. In reality, there are functional issues, too.

When teeth are missing, other teeth may drift to fill the empty space, altering the bite. This imbalance can lead to dental or TMJ (jaw joint) pain. Missing teeth can also cause problems with eating and speech. Oral hygiene can be more difficult. Bone loss is likely, since there are no tooth roots to stimulate the jawbone and signal that nutrients should be sent to this area. This, along with the tooth loss itself, can even change your facial appearance!

This all has implications for whole body health, too – something that’s shown nicely in a Japanese study just published in the Journal of Prosthodontic Research. (Prosthodontics is the dental specialty that focuses on replacing lost teeth to restore a functional bite.)

Data was gathered from the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study, a project that “aims to build a scientific backbone from the viewpoint of preventive medicine to establish a society of healthy longevity.” The oral health status of patients was categorized into several groups:

  • People with 20 teeth or more.
  • People with 10 to 19 teeth and a dental prosthesis.
  • People with 0 to 9 teeth and a prosthesis.
  • People with 10 to 19 teeth and no prosthesis.
  • People with 0 to 9 teeth and no prosthesis.

The research team then focused on a wide range of health measures, including physical and cognitive health, psychological distress, subjective health, social well-being, prosocial and altruistic behaviors, and health behaviors.

Analysis of the data showed that those with fewer than 20 teeth had a 7 to 10% higher risk of functional disability six years later and a 10 to 33% higher risk of death. These patients also tended to be less social and to eat fewer vegetables and less fruit than those with 20 or more teeth.

Those with fewer than 10 teeth and no prosthesis were more likely to have a severe functional disability. They typically engaged in fewer intellectual activities and reported feeling more hopeless.

But having a prosthetic – partial dentures, full dentures, or implants – appeared to offset the worse health outcomes. Risks were lower for patients with prosthetics. But why should this be?

“The relationship between oral and systemic health,” noted the research team,

can be attributed to factors such as malnutrition, inflammation, and social participation. These factors are crucial mortality risks that are significantly associated with oral health. First, lower weight and BMI have been associated with mortality. Additionally, deteriorated oral health can cause malnutrition, leading to deteriorated general health, which is supported by a study reporting the mediating effect of weight loss. Second, oral health problems can exacerbate inflammation and systemic health problems, including mortality. Third, meta-analytic reviews have reported that social isolation and loneliness are risk factors for mortality. Furthermore, poor dental status is associated with eating alone, which increases the risk of weight loss. Thus, a lack of social participation stemming from deteriorated oral health can lead to adverse health outcomes. In addition, evidence indicates that the relationship between tooth loss and depressive symptoms is mediated by oral function and orofacial appearance.

Here at Boise Caring Dentistry, we offer a full range of options for replacing missing teeth, including biocompatible ceramic implants and both traditional and implant-supported partials and dentures. Like all of the dental work we do, these prosthetics are all metal-free, which eliminates the risk of heavy metal toxicities and oral galvanism while also providing superior aesthetics and excellent functionality.

It’s just one more thing that makes our practice truly bio-LOGICAL.