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Understanding and Preventing Tooth Loss

Preventing tooth loss means a long-term commitment to smart, healthy dental and diet choices. It’s important to note that tooth loss can be both a symptom and cause of further health complications. Therefore going to the dentist regularly and brushing and flossing daily is important if you want to avoid losing teeth.

What Causes Tooth Loss?

There are several reasons that adults may lose their teeth. The most common reasons involve a combination of poor oral hygiene and dietary habits.

Dentists recommend that adults brush their teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. These habits stop plaque from building up on or between your teeth. Plaque build-up can cause cavities to form as the bacteria eats away at enamel. It can also cause your gums to become inflamed and infected. Tooth decay and gum disease can both weaken the tissues supporting your teeth, which can make your teeth loosen and fall out.

Sometimes people don't go to the dentist regularly or refuse to go even if a tooth hurts because they're afraid of pain associated with fixing problems or think they don't have the money to pay for treatments. Unfortunately, putting off dental treatment can only make the problem worse and you may ultimately face tooth loss if you ignore symptoms or skip your regular dental checkups.

In addition to poor oral hygiene habits, many people eat a lot of candy, gum or other sugary snacks. These can lead to tooth loss because sugar contributes to tooth decay, especially if you don't brush your teeth after eating. Smoking or chewing tobacco can also damage your teeth and gums. Finally, grinding your teeth can make them shorter and more prone to decay.

Tooth Loss By Age

Children usually get their first teeth when they are approximately one year old and don't begin to lose them until they are between four and six years old; however, in rare cases, babies or toddlers may lose their new teeth. If this happens, you should see your doctor – tooth loss in infants and toddlers can be a sign of a serious disease.

Very young children sometimes lose their teeth due to an autoimmune disorder. These types of disorders make it difficult for children's bodies to fight off disease. As a result, children who suffer from autoimmune disorders may get gum infections that can lead to early tooth loss. Diabetes and other metabolic disorders can also contribute to premature tooth loss in young children.

Between the ages of four and eight, the roots of the baby teeth begin to dissolve. This allows the teeth to fall out so that permanent ones can grow in their place. In most cases, the permanent teeth will grow in shortly after the baby ones fall out. It's normal for baby teeth to fall out at this age; however, you should allow them to do so on their own as much as possible. It's okay for your child to wiggle his loose teeth, but he should never use a string or other items to pull them. Pulling teeth before they’re ready to come out can cause the root to break or become stuck in the gums, which can lead to infection or other dental problems.

Once your child's permanent teeth grow in, he won't get another set if he loses them. Therefore, children who are involved in contact sports should make sure to wear a mouth guard during all activity. If a child is hit in the mouth, it could break his teeth or cause them to fall out.

As your children grow into teenagers, it's important to go over dental health habits with them. Teenagers don't often lose teeth unless they’re injured while playing sports, but some of their current dental and dietary habits can contribute to later tooth loss. For example, many teenagers drink a lot of soda and eat a lot of candy. Soda contains phosphoric acid, which can inhibit calcium absorption, so these habits can cause permanent damage to teenagers’ teeth, especially if they don't brush or floss properly. Teenage girls are especially at risk as they accumulate most of their bone mass by age 17 and need calcium to keep their bones and teeth strong.

Adults face many of the same risks to their teeth as teenagers, especially if they continue to have unhealthy dietary and dental habits. As you age, tooth loss becomes more of a concern. Losing teeth can be a symptom of diabetes and tooth loss has also been linked to dementia in the elderly, so it's important to get a general checkup if you begin to lose your teeth.

How to Prevent Tooth Loss

The best way to prevent tooth loss is to practice good dental health habits, which include brushing and flossing regularly. You should also see your dentist at least once every six months and make an appointment as soon as possible if you experience tooth pain or other problems with your teeth.

In addition to seeing your dentist, it's important to maintain a healthy diet so that you minimize the risk of tooth decay and loss. Make sure your diet contains adequate calcium, protein and other nutrients, and talk to your doctor and dentist about dietary changes if you seem to be having tooth problems. You also should get tested regularly for diabetes, especially if it’s common in your extended family or if you experience tooth loss or decay on a regular basis.

Your teeth are more important to your overall health than you might think. Losing your teeth not only makes you look unhealthy, but also may be the sign of a serious health problem. Identifying dental and overall health issues early gives you a greater chance to recover quickly and prevent future complications. Even if you've engaged in bad oral hygiene habits in the past, you can make a fresh start today and prevent further damage to your teeth.

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*This information is for general educational purposes only. The information presented is not a guarantee or representation that the procedures are covered under a Humana Dental or Vision Plan.

*Humana Individual dental and vision plans are insured and or offered by Humana Insurance Company, HumanaDental Insurance Company, Humana Insurance Company of New York, The Dental Concern, Inc., CompBenefits Insurance Company, CompBenefits Company, CompBenefits Dental, Inc., CompBenefits of Alabama, Inc., CompBenefits of Georgia, Inc., CompBenefits Direct, Inc., DentiCare, Inc. (d/b/a CompBenefits) or Texas Dental Plans, Inc.