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Tooth loss – common causes and ways to prevent it

Tooth loss is a problem that often affects older people but it does impact some younger people too. Causes of tooth loss range from poor dental care, to illness, lifestyle choices, or injury to your teeth.

The number of people in the UK with missing teeth has reduced a lot over the last 2 decades. In 1978, some 37% of adults had no natural teeth, compared with just 6% now. This reflects better dental care and higher numbers of people seeing the dentist on a regular basis. However, there's still room for improvement. About 31% of adults in the UK still have tooth decay and 74% have had at least one tooth removed.

Causes of tooth loss

There are many causes of tooth loss. Some common causes include:

Poor oral hygiene

Poor oral hygiene, or not brushing and flossing correctly, makes it easier for cavities and gum disease to develop, resulting in tooth loss.

Dental cavities

Cavities can develop when tooth decay takes a hold. It usually starts when the tooth surface isn't cleaned well enough and a substance called plaque starts to build-up. This is the first stage of tooth decay. Eventually, plaque weakens the tooth's top layer that is made from enamel. This damage can progress into holes or cavities that gradually affect the root of the tooth. A tooth may then become loose and eventually fall out. Statistics show that two-thirds of people have visible plaque and an average adult has about 7 fillings.

Gum disease

Gum disease is another leading cause of loose teeth and tooth loss. As with tooth decay, plaque is the usual culprit. Some plaque build-up is harmless, but some bacteria are known to trigger gum disease. One issue is that gum disease can be painless, so you may not notice it developing until quite a lot of damage is done. By then, you may have full-blown periodontal disease. Over years, you may lose the bone and ligaments that support your teeth. Treatment is harder if gum disease is well established. Watch for early symptoms like:

  • Swollen or red gums
  • Soreness
  • Gums bleeding when you brush teeth.

More advanced symptoms include:

  • Gum infections
  • Pockets or gaps between the teeth and gums
  • Gum recession
  • Loose teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Abscessed gums
  • Metallic or unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Problems with your bite (how teeth close together).

Gum disease can also strike during pregnancy when hormones can weaken a woman's response to disease. It's especially important to get regular dental care throughout your pregnancy.


Smoking can make gum disease far worse and put you at greater risk of tooth loss. Smokers are more likely to have bacterial plaque that triggers gum disease. Plus, smokers have less oxygen in their bloodstream. This affects the blood supply to your teeth and makes it harder for infected gums to heal.

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