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What Makes Adults Lose Their Teeth?

by Joanne Henderson, studioD

Adult tooth loss typically begins in people during their 40s for a variety of reasons, notes "The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals." The Centers for Disease Control reports that cavities, or dental carries, cause 9 out of 10 adults to lose 1 or more teeth. Cavities are not the only cause of adult tooth loss. The risk of adult tooth loss is influenced by gum disease, missing teeth, general health and personal habits.

Periodontal Disease

Gingivitis is an inflammatory condition of the gums caused by plaque buildup on the teeth. If it not treated and reversed, gingivitis may develop into periodontal disease. Periodontal disease affects the gum tissues, ligaments and bones anchoring the teeth. Long-term plaque buildup weakens and destroys gum tissue and causes the gums to gradually separate from the teeth, forming a space, or gum pocket. Gum pockets can also fill with plaque. This places the periodontal ligaments -- fibrous bands of tissue that help anchor teeth -- and tooth sockets within the jaw bone at risk for damage. As periodontal disease progresses the risk for adult tooth loss increases as the periodontal ligaments gradually stretch and bone loss occurs in the tooth sockets. Eventually the teeth loosen and may be lost.

Missing Teeth

One missing adult tooth may lead to the loss of more teeth. When a tooth is missing and not replaced, the teeth on either side may move or migrate toward the space. The moving teeth place stress on the gums, ligaments and bones of the migrating teeth and may contribute to adult tooth loss. Similarly, a tooth opposite a space may migrate toward the opening, resulting in damage to anchoring structures. When 2 teeth move, it is similar to a chain reaction and there is a gradual movement among all the teeth. When the alignment of the teeth change, the bite changes and the force for chewing is redistributed unevenly. Putting more pressure on 1 tooth than another when chewing contributes to instability and loss of adult teeth.

General Health

Chronic diseases involving the bones, such as osteoporosis, may contribute to tooth loss. Osteoporosis causes the bones to become less dense and weaker. The authors of a study article published in April 2013 in the "Journal of Dentistry and Oral Hygiene" state there is a strong association between osteoporosis and adult tooth loss. The authors were not able to determine whether tooth loss was directly caused by osteoporosis or periodontal disease and recommend further investigation. Diabetes and obesity may also increase the risk for tooth loss, according to an article published in the March 2013 issue of "Preventing Chronic Disease."


Smoking and teeth clenching are risk factors for adult tooth loss. Authors of an April 2011 review in "BMC Public Health Journal" support a strong causal association between smoking and adult tooth loss. Although the study supports a strong relationship, more long-term studies involving different countries and a larger variety of participants are recommended to establish whether smoking directly causes adult tooth loss or contributes to other factors that cause adult tooth loss. Clenching the teeth and grinding the teeth during sleep place additional pressure on the supporting structures of the adult teeth and can lead to tooth damage, looseness and eventual loss.

About the Author

Based in Canada, Joanne Henderson has been writing health-related articles for more than 20 years. She has covered dementia and disruptive behavior for the "Canadian Nursing Home" magazine. Henderson is also a practicing clinical nurse specialist.

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