By Cedric Chenet, D.D.S.
Edentulism is the condition of being toothless — at least to some degree. Dental implants are the most common procedure for this condition.
The cause of tooth loss is multifaceted, but it predominantly occurs as the result of untreated dental caries, periodontal disease and the lack of preventive and continuing dental care.
The condition is a serious disability, because it limits an individual’s capability to perform two essential tasks of life — speaking and eating.
Teeth are tools for chewing a wide variety of food of different textures and nutritional values. When teeth are lost, the masticatory function (or adaptation to chew) declines, leading to changes in dietary intake.
Edentulous individuals avoid hard-to-chew foods such as fruits, vegetables and meats and tend to choose softer, more processed foods. Consequently, a typical diet of an edentulous individual lacks major sources of vitamins, minerals and proteins, and is high in fat and cholesterol. Because edentulous people alter their diet, they are at higher risk of malnutrition.
But tooth loss can rob you of much more than the ability to chew and properly digest food. Our mouths and teeth have social, psychological and cultural significance due to their importance in verbal and nonverbal communication.
Edentulous individuals tend to avoid social interactions due to embarrassment and can feel uncomfortable eating in front of others, or can feel embarrassed during social interactions. Moreover, people without natural teeth can tend to avoid close relationships because they fear rejection when the other party discovers their condition. Some dental researchers have even indicated that tooth loss in adults is such a serious life event that it can require an even more difficult readjustment period than retirement.
DENTURES: AN OUTDATED FIX
In 1776, “dentures” were considered state of the art for treating edentulism. We certainly have come a long way, but despite improvements in dentistry, complete dentures remain the typical treatment for total edentulism.
However, it is well recognized that even with well-fabricated dentures, the ability to chew efficiently is reduced, especially with hard or tough-textured foods. This explains in large part the low-satisfaction levels of individuals with their existing dentures, especially their lower dentures.
One of my early mentors had a saying that puts this into perspective relative to disabilities in general: “Glass eyes don’t see, wooden legs don’t walk, and dentures don’t chew.”
DENTAL IMPLANTS: A SIMPLE SOLUTION WITH A DRAMATIC IMPACT
Numerous studies over the past two decades have shown that implant retained/supported dental prosthetics significantly improve ease of chewing. Appropriate oral rehabilitation can overcome the poor dietary habits of people wearing conventional dentures and help them overcome the social and psychological consequences of edentulism.
The simplest form of implant rehabilitation for total edentulism is a two-implant supported lower overdenture and maxillary complete denture. This simple, relatively affordable and minimally invasive procedure can have a dramatic impact on the life of an individual who has been suffering with the consequences of edentulism. It can literally be a life changing, if not lifesaving, event.
A recent consensus by prosthodontics consultants in 2002 (the McGill Consensus Statement) even emphasized that this mode of treatment (the two-implant overdenture) should be the first choice in the standard of care for edentulous patients.
Unfortunately, however, this mode of treatment, as well as other more extensive implant rehabilitations, are underutilized and remain out of reach for the majority of edentulous patients. This underutilization of treatment modalities for a disability that is so prevalent has its root in the associated costs of treatment and disparity in reimbursement by third-party payers (insurance companies) and the long-standing “stepchild status” of the dental profession in the eyes of the medical community, in general and third-party payers, in particular.
All that aside, the advantages and overall improvement in quality of life with an implant oral rehabilitation is such that when an individual realizes what a positive impact such a treatment can have on his or her life and health, he or she will want to seek out this mode of treatment. It’s up to his or her dental provider to educate him or her on these benefits and have financial policies and payment plans to make these treatments affordable.
Edentulism: By the Numbers
Edentulism, or the condition of being toothless, is a prevalent condition with some alarming statistics. Research within the U.S. shows an increase in the prevalence of edentulism with age:
>1 % among adults ages 20-39 yrs
4.9 % among adults ages 40-59 yrs
24.9% among adults OVER 60 yrs
These numbers are even more alarming with you look at populations of different socioeconomic status. One in three Medicare beneficiaries (35 percent) below the federal poverty levels has no natural teeth, nearly four times the rate amongst more affluent beneficiaries.
Remember, a smile does not only make you feel happy and beautiful, but it can bring a smile to someone else’s face, too. For more information on Dr. Chenet, call (321) 253-3136 or visit ChenetDental.com.