A mouth full of missing teeth is a fact of life for kids. Those gap-toothed smiles are as much a rite of passage as anything in the five to ten-year-old age group. But missing teeth is a real-world concern for adults, too. Adults should understand that losing a tooth is a real possibility, and there are several reasons why a permanent tooth may have to be pulled by a dentist.

It is also important to understand the types of extractions a dentist may suggest, how the procedures work, and what the recovery generally looks like. Although you may never have to deal with a missing tooth, it is still important to understand the underlying causes and treatment options related to problematic teeth.

Causes of Missing Teeth in Adults

Unlike with kids, adult teeth aren’t designed to fall out; they should last a lifetime if properly cared for. Here are the main causes of missing teeth in adults.

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Infection

Once tooth decay gets bad enough that it extends down to the center of the tooth, the pulp, or if damage to a tooth is severe enough that it exposes this delicate area, naturally-occurring bacteria in the mouth can then cause an infection in the tooth. When it is caught in time, a root canal may address the infection and save the tooth. But if this procedure and a healthy dose of antibiotics can’t cure the infection, the only option may be extraction. Failure to do so at this point can cause spreading of the infection and a more severe problem than one infected root.

Crowded Mouth

This is more often seen with children, but adults can suffer from crowded mouth condition, too. Often, a dentist will suggest pulling teeth to prevent a tooth from impacting against neighboring teeth, causing a misalignment of other teeth, or even preventing an adult tooth from erupting appropriately. Some people also have teeth that are too big for their mouth, which can prevent them from speaking clearly and chewing food correctly. These large teeth act as effective roadblocks for otherwise healthy teeth in the mouth.

Traumatic Injury

Even adults who have “flawless” teeth can end up injuring themselves to the point where tooth extraction may be required. Injuries can happen due to sports, a motor vehicle accidents, or other isolated incidents where the tooth becomes loose or cracked. If your tooth falls out, keep it preserved as much as possible and call for an emergency appointment.

Preparing for a Tooth Extraction

A tooth extraction isn’t considered major surgery, but you’ll want to make sure to tell your surgeon if you have any of the following:

  • A heart defect or prior heart surgery
  • Any immune system complications
  • An artificial joint
  • Previous diagnosis of bacterial endocarditis
  • Liver disease

What to Expect During the Tooth Extraction Process

If it is determined that a tooth extraction is in your immediate future, you’ll want to know exactly what’s in store. First, an oral surgeon or a dentist with specialized training will perform the actual procedure. Before going anywhere near the affected tooth, the dentist will deliver a numbing injection of a local anesthetic to the area near the extraction site. If more than one tooth will be removed, the dentist may opt to use a stronger dose of general anesthesia. This effectively renders you unaware of the surgery and numb to any pain during the procedure.

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The actual process of removing a tooth doesn’t sound very pleasant. Keep in mind that you’ll be totally numbed or even anesthetized during the entirety of the procedure, and the most you’ll feel is some pressure on your jaws. To remove the tooth, the dentist or oral surgeon will use a pair of forceps to grasp the tooth, then firmly remove it from the jaw bone using a gentle rocking motion. If the tooth is impacted (meaning it is running into other teeth), it may be necessary to trim back the gums and possibly even some bone tissue near the affected tooth. A tooth that’s more difficult to remove may have to be broken and removed in stages.

After the tooth is out, the dentist will pack a piece of gauze in the socket to help encourage the formation of a blood clot. They’ll ask you to bite down on the gauze pack for a little while to help stop any bleeding, and may even place a few self-dissolving stitches in the area if needed. The exposed socket normally heals just fine. But, if the blood clot shifts or falls out entirely, a condition called dry socket can occur. Under these circumstances, your surgeon will likely put a sedative dressing on top of the socket to allow a new blood clot to form.

Post-Surgery Care

Once your surgery is complete, expect to eat soft, cool foods for a while. Your dentist will provide you with a list of approved foods, and will likely prescribe a painkiller to help you after the procedure. Here are some of the ways you can effectively manage post-surgery pain and promote a speedy healing timeframe:

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  • Follow your surgeon’s orders precisely regarding changing out your gauze pad. This is one of the most important parts of managing the healing process and minimizing the chances of dry socket.
  • Take it easy for at least a day after the surgery, and try to have it on a Friday so you have the weekend to relax.
  • Ice the affected area once you get home, and follow your dentist’s orders regarding how long to apply cold to the area.
  • Don’t rinse aggressively or spit for at least 24-hours post-surgery. You run the risk of dislodging the blood clot and causing potential complications.
  • Eat foods like pudding, applesauce, yogurt, and soup the day after the procedure. You can add more fibrous foods gradually – just make sure it doesn’t hurt or you may be causing damage to the area.
  • Brush and floss as usual, but don’t touch the surgical site.
  • Don’t drink from a straw during the first 24 hours after the surgery. Doing so may cause the blood clot to dislodge.
  • Wait 24 hours after the surgery, then rinse your mouth gently with a solution of 1 teaspoon of salt dissolved in 16 ounces of lukewarm water.

Following these steps, as well as any care recommendations provided by your dentist, will help promote proper healing and minimize pain.

A tooth extraction can be quick and simple, and it may be necessary depending on the condition of your teeth. Schedule an appointment with your dentist or oral surgeon today if you feel like one or more of your teeth is cracked, overly loose, painful, or chipped. Your dentist will prescribe the appropriate course of treatment to give you a beautiful and healthy smile.