According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by age 17, 7% of Americans lose at least one permanent tooth due to decay. For adults 35-44, that number rises to 69%, and by age 50, the average American loses 12 teeth.

Dr. Virginia Ellis of Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. in Orinda, California, understands the problems that underlie tooth loss, which is why she stresses the importance of a good at-home dental hygiene routine and twice-yearly professional cleanings. Here’s what she has to say about the risks for tooth loss and how you can avoid the problem.

What causes tooth loss?

There are two main causes of tooth loss: tooth decay and gum disease. Here’s a look at both of them:

1. Tooth decay

Dental cavities, which develop due to harmful bacteria in the mouth, are a leading cause of tooth loss. If you don’t regularly brush and floss your teeth, bacteria can feed on the remaining food and form plaque on your teeth and gums. The plaque can then release acids that break down tooth enamel.

If the plaque is left untreated, it can cause decay, tooth fractures, and even tooth loss.

2. Periodontal disease

Also known as gum disease, periodontal disease starts off as gingivitis, in which the gums get inflamed due to a buildup of plaque.

Symptoms of gingivitis include:

  • Swollen, puffy gums
  • Dark red gums
  • Gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss
  • Bad breath
  • Receding gums
  • Tender gums

If gingivitis isn’t treated, it can progress to a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis. With periodontitis, the plaque hardens into tartar and spreads below the gumline, causing gum tissue to pull away from the roots of the teeth.

This can lead to the loss of teeth and the underlying bone tissue. Unfortunately, periodontitis is very common, affecting about 70% of adults aged 65 and older and 47% of adults aged 30 and older.

In addition to poor oral hygiene, diabetes — which is characterized by high blood sugar levels — can also increase the risk for periodontal disease. The good news is that controlling your gum disease can help you control your blood sugar levels, and vice versa.

How can I avoid tooth loss?

When it comes to what you can do to protect your oral health, you should do the following:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day
  • Floss your teeth once a day
  • Use an antiseptic mouth rinse
  • Schedule biannual professional dental cleanings
  • Limit your intake of sugary and starchy foods

It’s important to note, that while your at-home regimen is crucial to maintaining good oral health, the importance of professional cleanings can’t be overstated. While brushing and flossing can get rid of most of the bacteria and debris in your mouth, there are some places you likely aren’t able to get to. And if you’re already showing signs of early gum disease, you may have tartar building up below the gumline.

If a regular cleaning won’t resolve your gum disease issues, Dr. Ellis can perform scaling and root planing. Scaling involves scraping the tartar from your teeth, and root planing involves smoothing the surfaces of your tooth roots to help your gums reattach to your teeth. She finishes your treatment by polishing your teeth.

If you haven’t had a dental cleaning recently, or if you’re experiencing the signs of early gum disease, call (925) 272-2698 or book an appointment online with Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. today.