In simplest terms, edentulism is the condition of missing teeth. “Total edentulism is meaning you’re without teeth,” said David Allen, DMD, of W. David Allen Dentistry in Athens, GA.

Dr. Allen says there are two forms of edentulism: complete edentulism and partial edentulism. “Say you’re missing some molars in the back of your mouth,” he says, “that’s an edentulous space.”

Who Is At Risk for Edentulism?

Allen says edentulism is “kind of a regional thing” and a socioeconomic and educational issue. “Demographically, the more rural, the more present edentulism becomes,” he says. For example, Allen says people who grow up regularly going to the dentist, get braces in adolescent years and have good basic oral hygiene habits usually will not start to lose teeth and develop edentulism.

While age is obviously a factor for edentulism (the probability increases as a person gets older), age is not typically a determining factor. However, Allen says females are “more apt to hold onto their teeth and take care of them a little better.”

According to a PubMed study conducted at the Department of Prosthodontics, University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, complete edentulism is a global issue and involves both biological denture replacement.

Native Americans had the highest rate of edentulism in 2008, according to another PubMed study, conducted at the School of Nursing at Duke University, which observed edentulism trends among people over 50 in five different ethnic groups in the United States. Second was African Americans, followed by Caucasians, Asians and Hispanics.

What Are Side Effects of Edentulism?

Aside from the physical aspect of losing teeth, edentulism can affect people nutritionally and psychologically and lowers a person’s self-esteem. “When you take out someone’s teeth, it immediately affects their ability to talk and enunciate words,” Allen says. “From a nutritional standpoint, it alters what they are able to eat.”

He notices that some edentulous people are not as affected mentally as others. It varies depending on whether or not a person grew up with regular dental care. “Some people are fine with it,” he says, “because that’s just the way their parents have done it.”

According to the UNC PubMed study, people with full edentulism, or completely edentulous patients, were at higher risk for poor nutrition coronary artery plaque formation, to be smokers and asthmatic, to develop rheumatoid arthritis and to have specific cancers, as well as some chance of reduced bone loss. The study also reports it has yet to be determined whether or not the consequences of edentulism are “causal” or “casual.”

Allen says it is important to know edentulism should be considered more like a classification than a condition or sickness.