Ask the Dentist: Is Losing Teeth Inevitable?
Really, is losing teeth inevitable? Implantology enthusiast Dr. Julius Tong answers your top questions about retaining and replacing teeth with dental implants.
On YourSmile.SG, we’ve talked a great deal about getting the ideal smile. Perhaps now’s a good time to go back to basics. After all, having a great smile starts with having teeth! Here’s what Dr. Julius Tong has to say.
I’m still young, so there’s no worry of tooth loss… right?
Woah, hold up! Even if you’re young and healthy, please don’t take your teeth for granted! The top three reasons for tooth loss are tooth decay, gum disease and dental trauma (or injury). Time does exacerbate the effect of disease (which is why lots of people associate tooth loss with elderly folk) but tooth loss is definitely not a side effect of getting old. I’ve treated tooth loss patients of all ages. If I were to generalise, younger patients, like teenagers, tend to suffer tooth loss from trauma, while tooth decay and gum disease are the main culprits in adults, especially as they age.
What can I do to prevent tooth loss?
I’m glad you asked! As with everything else, if you want to hang on to your teeth, you need to take good care of it — I’m talking about both preventive and corrective maintenance.
Prevention is definitely better (and potentially less painful) than cure, so let’s start there. Maintaining good oral hygiene and eating habits is essential. Doing so can reduce the risk and development of tooth decay and gum disease. Of course, regular dental check-ups are also important, because you’re giving your dentist the opportunity to pick up any early signs of trouble and help you out.
That’s the “corrective” part — fixing the problem as it arises. I’ve encountered many patients who have let their condition worsen because of procrastination. Many times, it’s because they’re fearful of dental procedures, when they really don’t have to be! There have been many advances in dental technology, like dental lasers for example, that make treatments much faster and less painful.
And finally, if you love contact sports or participate in other activities that could lead to dental trauma, you should also consider a mouth guard. Your dentist should be able to advise you on that.
But there’s no guarantee that I won’t lose teeth?
Well, almost everyone will have the chance to contemplate tooth replacement options at some point in their life. When the time comes, you should be looking at replacing the missing tooth and emulating what was lost — the more natural, the better. And you don’t just consider aesthetic considerations. Your replacement tooth should feel natural too, so it doesn’t interfere with daily life.
You basically have three options: dental implant, dental fixed bridge and removable denture. Dentures are likely to be the first thing that comes to most people’s minds. But being bulky and uncomfortable, they’re probably not the best long-term choice from a lifestyle point of view.
But dental implant sounds… painful.
Every time I mention dental implant to my patients, their reaction is invariably a shocked widening of the eyes and an under-the-breath mutter: “Wah, that sounds painful…” — so I don’t blame you for thinking the same!
In reality, it’s not that scary, I promise. After undergoing the procedure, most of my patients say that they didn’t feel a thing (thanks to the anaesthesia) and that the recovery process was similar to dental extraction. The results, however, almost always bring a smile to their faces.
Ok, tell me more about the implantation procedure please.
The idea of dental implants is to give you a new tooth root (made of titanium) by surgically attaching this to your jawbone. A small incision is made in your gum so this can be inserted, after which a replacement crown or bridge is mounted on top. A strong internal lock-and-screw mechanism ensures that the crown doesn’t budge.
Implants are regarded as the top replacement choice because the titanium root can fuse itself to your jawbone (this usually takes about three months). This gives it the permanence that you’re looking for — it looks and feels like a natural tooth.
I’ve heard of mini dental implants too. Is that a good choice?
Like its name suggests, a mini implant is small. It’s usually a quarter or half the diameter of a conventional implant. This makes it an easier treatment option that is both patient-friendly and cost-effective — but it has its limitations.
Mini implants could be used as a replacement for small teeth or incisors but, in my experience, it’s mainly used in conjunction with dentures. For patients whose dentures don’t stay in place, for example, several well-placed mini implants can be very useful as an anchor — the dentures can be clipped onto the head of the mini implants to aid retention.
If I get dental implants, is it life as usual after?
Definitely! Your dentist should strive to emulate the natural form and function of your missing tooth. When done right, the replacement tooth should look and feel like any other natural tooth. You should be able to smile, eat and clean well.
One of my favourite moments at work is when I deliver the final implant crown for my patients. It’s such a joy to see their delighted reactions! For patients getting their front teeth replaced, I love seeing them smile with confidence again, without worrying about a gap in their teeth. For patients with their back teeth replaced, it’s almost always about eating the food that they couldn’t have when they were wearing dentures or missing teeth. I love my job because I’m not just helping people restore their smile and function; I’m helping them regain the quality of life that they deserve.
Special thanks to Dr. Julius Tong for contributing to this article! Dr. Tong is a smile enthusiast with special interests in aligner therapy and implantology (dental implant). He’s able to work with the Osstem and Astra implant systems and regularly pursues professional development in this area to ensure that he shares the latest best practices with his patients.