Edentulism: Being toothless

Don't let your missing teeth wipe the smile off your face; deal with it effectively

Toothless old manIn Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare refers to old age as the seventh age, which he describes as ‘sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything’. Tooth loss, especially total tooth loss or edentulism, is the dental equivalent of death.

Chew on this

Even a few missing teeth [partial edentulism] need to be fixed on time. This is because, absence of even a few teeth requires the remaining teeth to do extra work, placing stress on them, and leading to further tooth loss.

And eating with missing teeth is uncomfortable or even painful, and causes people to slowly draw away from food. Also, when there are no teeth, the jawbone shrinks, reducing the chewing efficiency, forcing individuals to abstain from some foods.

Studies show that edentulous individuals are more likely to eat an unhealthy diet compared to individuals with natural teeth—they consume fewer fruits, vegetables and lower amounts of fibre. This leads to digestive disorders, diabetes, dementia and malnutrition. Over time, their ability to enjoy the texture and even the thermal sensations of food diminishes.

A mouthful of problems

Edentulism affects several areas of life.

  • Low self-esteem: Edentulism prevents people from feeling confident about their appearance. Many adults hesitate to venture into the public without teeth. Due to their missing teeth, they feel embarrassed to smile and lack the confidence to meet people or talk to them.
  • Impaired speech: Edentulism affects speech; a lot of sounds and words we utter, depend on our front teeth. Using dentures too affects speech, especially if the dentures are ill-fitting. The individual usually tenses the facial muscles to hold the dentures in place, or constantly uses the tongue to rearrange it; resulting in slurred speech and clicking noises.
  • Increased health risk: Edentulous individuals are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Changed appearance: Edentulous individuals have to deal with altered appearance, as loss of teeth changes their facial structure—sunken cheeks, unsupported lips, collapsed jawline, which makes the chin and nose appear closer. There is a huge change in a person’s looks because the teeth, which support the facial muscles are no longer present.
  • Facial ageing: Total tooth loss accelerates facial ageing—the bone reduces in height and thickness, jawbone begins to shrink making the face look older.

A brand new set

However, advances in dental technologies enable treatment of edentulism in a quick and efficient manner. The combination of dental implants and dental crowns is one of the best options to resolve the problem of missing teeth. This is because these two technologies are modelled after actual teeth and teeth roots, and are very similar in behaviour to the natural set.

All smiles

Edentulous individuals, especially if they are frail, depend on their care-givers for their livelihood and their smiles. It is here that family support plays a significant role in building confidence among the edentulous individuals in restoring their smiles back. What edentulous individuals need is empathy and not sympathy.

Finally, the least one can do for edentulous individuals is to refrain from laughing at them or poking fun at them, as some day we all have to go through the Shakespearean seventh age.

Action items

  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of oral diseases and get them treated in time to prevent losing teeth.
  • Discuss the options available to you such as implants with your dentist, if you suffer from edentulism.
  • Share with your care-giver/dentist your comfort levels and expectations from the treatment so it can be altered for your comfort.
Vijay Tamhane
Vijay Tamhane is the founder director of Edentulous Support Society, India's first and only support group for edentulous people.


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