Patients who are facing a tooth extraction or thinking about wisdom tooth removal may wonder if—and in what ways—missing teeth may affect their facial structure. Before going ahead with surgery or leaving the gap left by a missing tooth empty, it's important to understand how missing teeth change the shape of your face and what you can do to maintain a full, youthful appearance.
Wisdom Teeth Removal Doesn't Affect the Shape of Your Face
First off, let's make things clear: Having your wisdom teeth removed won't change your face shape. If your wisdom teeth are impacted (which can lead to infection) or making it impossible for you to brush and floss your back molars effectively, it's better to have them removed.
Unlike your other teeth, your wisdom teeth grow in a part of your jaw called the dental alveolus, not in the basal jawbone that determines the shape of your face. If your face looks a little slimmer after removing wisdom teeth, it might be because:
You ate less food during the recovery period.
Your face was swollen after the surgery and the swelling subsequently went down.
If you're noticing a slimming of the face several decades after wisdom tooth extraction, this is most likely due to the natural shrinking of the soft tissues in the chin and jaw area over time rather than wisdom tooth removal.
When Missing Teeth Do Affect Face Shape
While wisdom teeth extraction doesn't affect your smile or face shape, the extraction of other teeth does. The roots of your other teeth form part of the structure of the basal jaw bone or maxilla, which are responsible for the shape of your chin (at the bottom) and the shape of your nose and eye sockets (on the top).
When you lose teeth in your 20s or even in your 70s, the bone and gum where each tooth root was located start to recede, affecting your facial bones and causing a sunken look in the place where you had a tooth extracted. People with no teeth will notice that their chin and nose come much closer together than they were and that wrinkles develop around their mouth.
Other Problems that Can Occur After Tooth Extractions
Your face's shape isn't the only structural problem that can occur after tooth extraction. Once there are no tooth roots in a certain part of your mouth, the surrounding teeth can shift out of place, causing crooked teeth and potentially creating points of contact for upper and lower teeth to rub against one another and cause damage.
Jaw bone loss from a missing tooth or several missing teeth can also lead to jaw alignment problems such as an exaggerated underbite, making it hard to eat and speak normally. Addressing the cause of the problem is a necessary part of correcting the alignment of the mouth.
Tooth Replacement Options
While missing teeth can change the appearance of your face, there are several treatments available to prevent bone loss and keep you looking youthful and strong after tooth extraction. Getting one of these treatments soon after a tooth extraction or after knocking out a tooth can help to prevent jaw bone atrophy and other teeth from shifting out of place.
If you have a missing tooth, a dental implant is the best way to prevent changes to your mouth and jawbone. Dental implants replace teeth roots with a titanium post that's attached to the jaw. This post is capped with a titanium abutment, to which a natural-looking porcelain tooth crown is attached.
The titanium post stimulates jaw bone growth just like a natural tooth root and prevents bone loss and changes to your face, which is why implants are such a great solution. If there isn't enough jaw bone to support the implant, bone grafts can be performed to stimulate the growth of new bone before inserting the implant.
How Long Do Dental Implants Last?
While dental implants are a significant investment, the implants that we place in our Beverly Hills office are usually permanent and shouldn’t need replacing as long as you stay on top of your oral hygiene. Moreover, the porcelain material from which the crowns are made is stain-resistant, cavity-resistant, and as strong as a natural tooth.
Patients with a missing tooth between two decayed teeth might consider a dental bridge instead. Dental bridges consist of a series of dental crowns that are joined together at the sides and cemented onto one natural tooth at each end. While a dental bridge won't stimulate jaw bone growth in the place of the extracted tooth, it will prevent other teeth from shifting and food from becoming lodged in the pocket.
Jaw Bone Graft
If your jaw bone has already started to recede, a jaw bone graft can be performed to stimulate the growth of new bone and prevent the general weakening of the jaw. Whether or not you then decide to get an implant, the maintenance of the bone itself can help to prevent facial asymmetry.
Alignment problems that have been caused by a tooth extraction can often be improved with the use of Invisalign. In this system, a graduated series of plastic retainers helps to move the teeth back into place, straightening your smile and improving your bite.
Please note that dental implants won't move with orthodontic treatments—including Invisalign—so you would usually have treatment with Invisalign first and then have dental implants placed. You can discuss the options with your cosmetic dentist when planning your full-mouth reconstruction or smile makeover.
Don't Risk Changes to Your Face's Shape—See a Cosmetic Dentist
Bone deterioration from tooth loss can happen gradually, but the changes to your facial structure are permanent. And once parts of your face develop a sunken look, this can affect your confidence, self-esteem, relationships, and ability to speak on topics with authority.
Instead of presuming that your face won't change, it's better to see a dentist as soon as possible and discuss the treatment options available. Correcting the problem before the bone atrophies is the best way to protect your smile.