Edentulism: what is it and what does it involve?

Edentulism: what is it and what does it involve?

Edentulism – the total or partial loss of the teeth – is an often debilitating condition which can lead to the impairment of some physical, psychological and social abilities. Which are the consequences of edentulism on oral and general health?

Impact on oral health

The loss of one or more teeth can be accompanied by changes in the anatomy of the jaw. For example, a progressive resorption of the bone surrounding the root of the lost tooth and/or a reduction in the height of the alveolar bone, i.e. the bone that provides support to the teeth, may occur. These changes are able to affect the soft tissue profile, via the protrusion of the lip, the chin and, in general, may contribute to an older appearance of the face.

The loss of teeth is also an significant risk factor of chewing efficiency which is directly proportional to the number of functional units. This disability can affect our desire to bite and chew and could lead to a change in dietary choices.

Finally, edentulism may be accompanied by functional and sensory deficiencies of the mucosa and of the oral musculature, as well as of the salivary glands. Some studies have, for example, shown in the edentulous population a lower regenerative capacity and resistance of the oral mucosa, which may compromise the protective function of the mouth.

Impact on general health

Although scientific data are accumulating to support a mutual relationship between oral and general health, the mechanisms linking general health and dental loss are not yet fully understood. Presumably, dental loss may have a negative impact on diet and food selection which, in turn, may affect our overall health.

According to several studies, tooth loss can affect general health in several ways:

higher prevalence of obesity and higher risk of cardiovascular disease

gastrointestinal disorders and increased rates of chronic inflammatory alteration of the gastric mucosa

• increased risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus

• increase in night-time breathing disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnoea.

The edentulous patient should therefore rely on a specialized multidisciplinary approach able to evaluate the causes that have generated the  dental loss, and then proceed with the therapy aimed at restoring the missing tooth/teeth through oral implantology. The insertion of the implant, in fact, would allow to counteract the reabsorption of the bone that previously enveloped the root, to induce new bone regeneration, and finally restoring normal dietary habits.

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