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Why Back Teeth Matter!

One question we frequently hear from patients when we talk about replacing missing teeth is: “Why should I replace that tooth? I don’t miss it. It’s been gone for years!” We NEVER hear this when talking about the front teeth, the ones visible when you smile or talk. Those teeth are the ones of cosmetic concern for everyone and because of that, to most of us, they are the ones we worry about the most.  We want to have a nice smile, right? Nobody wants to look like they don’t care about their teeth, of course. The truth is, front teeth are NOT the most important teeth from a functional and biological standpoint; the back teeth (molars) are. Our teeth are designed to destroy food so we can swallow it and get the energy we need for life. The cosmetic concerns are nice but are merely secondary. 

So, why do molars matter? Why do back teeth matter?  The answer is: They are the teeth that do the majority of the chewing! They are the ones that take the vast forces produced by our jaw muscles and use it to mash food into something we can swallow without gagging or choking.  When they are gone, people, by default, chew with the front teeth instead, transferring those massive chewing forces to the remaining long teeth, or they resort to a bland soft food diet. Over time, those front teeth, which were designed to slice and tear food rather than grind it to a pulp, get ground down themselves.  Or, they just break off at the gumline.  We see this every day in our practice. The more missing back teeth, the faster the remaining teeth get destroyed. So, saving (rather than extracting) or replacing molars and other back teeth helps you keep your front teeth looking nice, which means maintaining your smile! 

What are the options for tooth replacement, assuming all of your teeth aren’t already missing? Dental implants, bridges, and partial dentures are the usual options. Of those, a partial denture is the least expensive but also the least satisfactory.  In fact, roughly half of those who have one do not wear it, and even if they do, they usually cannot replace back teeth in a manner that prevents chewing with the front teeth. Most people struggle with their partial for various reasons, but primarily because a partial is the equivalent of a peg leg for missing body part. It will never function like the real thing. Ever. A bridge is a much more satisfactory tooth replacement option. Chewing function is like having your own tooth back; the downside is keeping the bridge part clean underneath. As a result, over time many bridges are being replaced by dental implants when the teeth under the bridge decay away.

Dental implants are the replacement option that is most likely to function like your own missing tooth. They cost about the same as a bridge in our practice and are easier to clean underneath and around using dental floss and a toothbrush. A patient seen recently, who has had both bridges and a single dental implant, told us she absolutely loves the implant and if she could go back in time, would’ve had the other teeth replaced with implants rather than bridges. So, when the dentist recommends replacing a missing tooth, or saving it with a crown or root canal, it is because he/she understands the consequences of what can happen to your smile down the road if you don’t replace it.

And now you do, too.

Published December 18, 2019