Edentulism (Toothlessness): Causes, Treatment, Prevention

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. Types
  2. Prevalence
  3. Causes
  4. Risk Factors
  5. Impact on Oral & General Health
  6. Other Issues
  7. Prevention
  8. Treatment
  9. Facial Support & Aethetics
  10. Frequently Asked Questions
  11. References

Edentulism, or tooth loss, is when someone lacks some or all of their teeth. Missing teeth can be detrimental to your health as it makes it hard to chew food and digest it properly.

The condition is most common in the United States among adults and people 60 years or older. According to the American College of Prosthodontics, more than 36 million Americans suffer from the condition.

There are isolated cases of edentulism among young children—especially those who fail to practice proper dental hygiene. In addition to its role in digestion, teeth also contribute to an individual’s facial appearance.

Types of Edentulism

There are two types of edentulism that can affect someone—partial and complete.

  1. Partial edentulism: With partial toothlessness, individuals will have some of their natural teeth missing. Partial tooth loss occurs more on the upper jaw than on the lower jaw.

  2. Complete Edentulism: People with complete edentulism have all their teeth missing. It has a further classification into four classes, based on diagnostic findings. Class I represents an uncomplicated clinical situation, while Class IV signifies a complex clinical case.

Prevalence of Edentulism

Although it has decreased in the past decade, edentulism is still fairly common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2011 and 2016, one in six adults 60 years and older lost one or more teeth. Adults 65 and older are most affected with tooth loss than younger adults.

CDC’s Oral health surveillance report shows that 17 percent of the older population have edentulism. Among those younger than 65, the rate is 4 percent.


Tooth loss is usually associated with bacteria that cause oral infections. Besides that, the following can cause edentulism:

Tooth loss can occur when your teeth experience a blunt force perhaps during an injury. Such force can cause dislodgement. Tooth trauma is the leading cause of tooth loss among children.

Tooth decay or dental caries lead to holes in your teeth. Left untreated, it causes permanent tooth damage forcing the dentist to remove them.

Periodontitis is an infection that affects the gums. The illness affects the jaw bone, impairing its function. It is the leading cause of edentulism

People who have no educational background lack basic knowledge about dental hygiene, which is critical in preventing tooth loss.

Inadequate oral hygiene can result in the build-up of oral diseases, eventually leading to edentulism. Research shows that bad oral health habits can also cause heart disease.

Regular visits to the dentist can be costly, especially if you don’t have dental insurance. People with a lower income tend to forgo dental visits, which can result in dental disorders leading to edentulism.

A diet with many sugary foods has a link to edentulism, which can lead to gum disease, which can cause the loss of teeth.

Osteoporosis is an illness that affects the bones, making them weak leading to fractures. The condition affects long and short bones, such as the jaw. The condition causes your jaw bone to be less dense, resulting in tooth loss.

Risk Factors

These are the factors that can increase your chances of getting tooth loss:

  • Age: As you get older, the tooth enamel starts to wear out. Further, the gums holding your teeth begin to recede, and you also experience a reduction in saliva production. All these factors put you at a greater risk of contracting edentulism.

  • Smoking: Tooth loss is higher in smoking individuals than non-smokers. According to the CDC, smoking causes gum disease. If the disease progresses, it can damage the bones that hold your teeth in place.

  • Gender: Women undergo hormonal changes which affect their oral health making them more susceptible to tooth loss than men. During menopause some hormones, such as estrogen, decrease, causing loss of the jaw bone placing women at a greater risk of getting osteoporosis.

Impact on Oral and General Health

Having inadequate dentition can have undesirable effects on one’s oral and general health. It can impact a person’s oral health in the following ways:

  • Impaired mastication: Lack of teeth makes it difficult for someone to chew or bite their food. It will affect your diet because you will have to select foods that are easy to break down.

  • Modifies the physiology of the mouth: Edentulism weakens the bones that form the mouth’s upper and lower jaw. It also leads to residual ridge resorption, which is the breakdown of the jaw bone that remains after teeth removal. It reduces the size of the jaw containing sockets of teeth (alveolar ridge).

  • Determinant of oral health: The decline in salivary glands function compromises the protective role of saliva in the mouth, which is associated with tooth loss.

Other Issues with Tooth Loss

Just when you thought you knew all the problems that can follow tooth loss, here are more:

  • Reduced intake of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables

  • Increases the chances of pancreatic cancer and ulcers

  • It may lead to noninsulin-dependent diabetes

  • Causes sleep apnea, a breathing disorder experienced during sleep

Furthermore, people with edentulism prefer eating fast foods that are easy to chew. These foods contain high cholesterol levels, which can cause obesity and heart disease.


Preventing tooth loss may not always be possible. But you can use the following measures to avoid gum diseases, which will help prevent edentulism in the long run:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day.

  • Floss your teeth at least once a day.

  • Use dental sealants to prevent tooth decay.

  • Avoid smoking as this leads to gum disease.

  • Incorporate calcium and vitamin D into your diet to form strong bones.

  • Visit the dentist every six months.


Dentists use different approaches to treat edentulism, depending on the severity of tooth loss. In persons with partial edentulism, physicians replace teeth lost with partial dentures. They can also use implant-supported prosthetics—artificial tooth roots screwed onto the jaw bone. These contain a single false tooth attached to them.

However, if one has complete tooth loss, dentists will present two option, dentures or a bridge:

  • Dentures: These are false teeth used to replace missing ones. You can fix them permanently or make them removable. In case of complete edentulism, the dentist will use full dentures.

  • Tooth bridge: It is made up of artificial teeth attached to a metallic frame. The dentist will fix the bridge to the mouth where the teeth used to be.

Facial Support and Aesthetics

Teeth have many functions. One is contributing to facial support which improves an individual’s facial appearance. For example, the front teeth help support the lips.

In edentulous patients, the cheeks have a sunken appearance affecting one’s looks. Additionally, without teeth, the tongue muscles tend to broaden out, filling the mouth. The tongue can make it difficult for one to use dentures.

You can correct it through aesthetic reconstruction. It involves using a facial scanner to predict the normal facial appearance of a person.


Oral infections such as gingivitis and dental caries (cavities) cause edentulism. Other common causes are bone loss and poor oral hygiene. These diseases destroy the gums and bones that hold teeth in place, causing teeth to fall out.

Edentulism can affect one’s nutritional health. It also leads to a poorer quality of life, affecting one’s social and physiological health.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.