When a dentist discovers a cavity, we immediately want to clean out the bacterial infection and fill the void left by the disease. When we see a missing tooth in someone’s mouth, our natural instinct is to fill the space with a new tooth as soon as possible! That is what dentists were trained to do. That is the way that we improve our patients’ lives!
The difficult truth for dentists is that nobody has ever died from not replacing a single missing tooth. Quality of life (being able to eat, talk, and smile confidently) is another matter altogether. Communicating effectively, eating what you want, and smiling at people are all pretty essential to happiness! Missing teeth and losing jawbone can lead to a lifetime of negative physical and mental consequences.
Why is your dentist so interested in filling those holes where teeth used to be? Let us illustrate with a short story about a fictional set of twin brothers. We’ll name them Ted and Ed.
Ted and Ed Entulous both experienced severe gum disease at an early age. They were thirty years old when they lost all of their teeth to periodontitis (the fancy name for gum problems.) At that point, the brothers were offered two tooth replacement options. First, the more time-consuming (and more expensive) option was a full mouth of dental implants securing a full set of both top and bottom teeth. Second, the quicker, cheaper option was a set of conventional plastic dentures that rested on the gums and jaw bones where their original teeth once were. Ted and Ed were both healthy and had enough bone to support the implants at age thirty. The brothers also were blessed with the means to pay for whatever treatment they preferred. Finances can certainly dictate and affect treatment decisions. Ted and Ed could pay for whatever treatment they preferred… if they made dental care their priority. Ted and Ed consulted with their dentist and decided to have the implant procedure done together.
Ted Entulous was always considered the slow and steady, practical brother. Conversely, Ed was a little more compulsive and sometimes accused of being short-sighted and always searching for a good time. On the way home from their dental consultation, Ed Entulous happened past a sports car dealership. A shiny new model caught his eye! After a quick test drive and visit with Sammy Salesman, Ed was on his way home with a pretty new toy. The dental implants would have to wait. For now, Ed would just get some plastic dentures. That was quicker, less involved, and less expensive option.
Ted Entulous, on the other hand, was laser focused and completed the dental implant treatment plan. He had twelve dental implants placed and teeth that attached to them. He got his teeth back. He got his smile back. No floppy, plastic dentures for Ted Entulous. It was a long process, but Ted could eat whatever he wanted, smile, and was very happy once everything healed.
In the following years, Ed would constantly complain to his brother about loose dentures and being unable to eat some of his favorite foods. Initially, Ed’s complaints were alleviated by a ride through the hills in his fancy convertible with the top down. Ed eventually accepted his choice and adapted his diet and lifestyle to compensate for his loose dentures.
Fast forward thirty years (the brothers are sixty now) and you would not believe that Ted and Ed Entulous are twins. Ted is a vigorous man, often mistaken for twenty years younger than he actually is. Ted’s dental implants have required routine yearly maintenance and are all still there holding his teeth and bone in place.
Ted did upgrade them about ten years ago to improve their looks. Brother Ed, on the other hand, looks quite a bit older than his sixty years. His chin appears too close to his pointy nose and the corners of his mouth are drooping down. Ed’s lips are a bit thin, and his wrinkles outnumber Ted’s ten to one.
Ed likes to brag that he is on his fourth set of plastic dentures. He has yet to spend as much money as his brother did that one day thirty years ago. Ted just smiles big and points to his shiny new sports car.
The sad truth is that Ed tried to get dental implants about ten years back. Unfortunately, the bone available to anchor the implants was long gone. Ed was no longer a candidate for dental implants without extensive grafting and multiple jaw surgeries. To make matters worse, Ed’s sports car had been wrecked many years ago.
All kidding aside, there is a lesson to be learned from the story of Ted and Ed!
Your upper and lower jaw bones are there for a reason—to hold your teeth in place! When you lose teeth, you start to lose the bone where those teeth once rested. With each passing year, more and more of the supporting jawbone is lost. Once the bone is resorbed, it’s mostly gone forever.
In other words, tooth loss leads to bone loss, and bone loss leads to what happened to poor Ed Entulous—premature aging of your facial structures.
Dental implants provide many long-term benefits. Most importantly, they restore teeth, function, and confident smiles! Implants also act as tooth roots to help the body to maintain jawbone levels as you age.
This maintenance of the jaws and your bite level combats wrinkles and aging. In terms of longevity and quality of life, the cost of dental implants is minimal compared to the long-term benefits.
Technology has evolved in bone grafting and 3D imaging and guided surgery so that most patients can now be candidates and receive dental implant therapy. As you can see, the sooner you explore dental implants, the better!
If you’ve ever wanted a better tooth replacement option than floppy dentures or partials, now is a great time to ask your dentist if implants are right for you.
Be a Ted and not an Ed!