What Is Anodontia?

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Tooth agenesis is a genetic condition causing missing teeth. Anodontia is a rare form of tooth agenesis that causes the absence of all teeth. Anodontia may be suspected if baby teeth or permanent teeth aren't developed by the typical timelines and can be confirmed with dental X-rays. It can be treated by replacing the missing teeth with dentures, dental implants, or dental bridges.

This article provides an overview of anodontia, as well as its causes and available treatment options.

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Anodontia Causes

Anodontia is caused by genetics. It's different from missing teeth due to gum disease, a mouth injury, cavities, or tooth decay.

Instead, anodontia is inherited (passed down from parent to child) in what's called an autosomal recessive pattern. This means that each parent has passed down a copy of a mutated (abnormally changed) gene that leads to anodontia. Parents can just be carriers of this gene, meaning they pass it down but don't show any signs or symptoms of anodontia, though their children may.

Experts don't know exactly which genes cause anodontia, but it's usually linked to ectodermal dysplasia, a group of conditions that cause abnormalities in the hair, skin, nails, and sweat glands. In rare cases that anodontia occurs without ectodermal dysplasia, it's likely due to another unknown genetic mutation.

What Is Ectodermal Dysplasia?

Ectodermal dysplasia is a group of genetic conditions that cause abnormalities in the hair, skin, nails, and sweat glands. For example, ectodermal dysplasia can prompt symptoms like a lack of sweating, hair loss (alopecia areata), missing nails, or a cleft lip (opening or split in the upper lip) or cleft palate (opening or split in the roof of the mouth).

Signs and Symptoms of Anodontia

The main symptom of anodontia is the absence of teeth.

For example, you may primarily notice tooth development signs like:

  • A baby not developing baby teeth by the time they’re a little over a year old
  • A child not developing permanent teeth by the time they reach the preteen years

Additional signs may be linked to ectodermal dysplasia symptoms, such as:

  • Rapid hair loss or patchy baldness
  • Lack or reduction of sweating
  • Cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Missing fingernails

If anodontia is suspected, a physical examination will be performed and X-rays will be taken to confirm that there aren't any teeth in the gums that haven't grown in yet.

Varied Timelines

Keep in mind that the tooth development timeline can vary among people, so the diagnosis may not automatically be anodontia. The average age for the first baby tooth to appear is when the child is 6 months old, but some infants don't get their first tooth until they are 14 or 15 months old. Similarly, it's possible for permanent teeth to take up through the teen years to develop.

Types of Tooth Agenesis

There are different types of tooth agenesis. Anodontia is an absence of all teeth: baby teeth and permanent teeth. If only some teeth are missing, it can be categorized as:

  • Hypodontia: When up to six teeth are absent (the most common type of tooth agenesis)
  • Oligodontia: When more than six teeth are absent, but not all of them

Wisdom Teeth

When defining the type of tooth agenesis, the number of missing teeth does not include the wisdom teeth (sometimes called the third molars). Wisdom teeth usually start appearing between the ages of 17 and 21 but may never erupt in some people.

Treatment Options for Anodontia

It's important to seek care for anodontia as soon as possible. Missing teeth can lead to a variety of health issues, such as:

  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Dietary issues and insufficient eating 
  • Lowered self-esteem 
  • Altered bite
  • Abnormal speaking patterns
  • Bone loss or deterioration 
  • Weakened jaw muscles and structure
  • Increased risk for cavities or other dental problems

Fortunately, there are treatment options for anodontia, including:

  • Dentures, which are complete or partial sets of false teeth, may be necessary in cases of total or significant tooth absence. They are worn as needed and taken out at night. Keep in mind that living with dentures does require routine care, including cleaning them properly and avoiding certain foods and drinks while they're in place.
  • Dental implants are permanent false teeth with artificial roots that are inserted into the gums. Implants may be a promising option when there’s a single tooth in one area to be fixed. 
  • Dental bridges are sets of artificial teeth attached to a bracket (or bridge) then cemented to supporting structures (either existing healthy teeth with dental crowns or dental implants). They’re typically more effective for replacing multiple missing teeth in a row.

Your dentist will provide guidance on the best option for your individual case.

Recap

Dental implants, dental bridges, and dentures are all common methods for replacing missing teeth. The specific treatment option recommended for an anodontia patient will depend on the number of teeth missing, health of the jaw, and other factors, such as age and preference.

Summary

Anodontia is a rare genetic condition in which the teeth fail to develop. While it's not known exactly which genes are involved in anodontia, this condition is usually related to ectodermal dysplasia, a group of inherited disorders that can affect the teeth. Treatment options include dentures, dental implants, and dental bridges. These can help with chewing, speaking, self-esteem, and prevention of other dental health issues that may arise from anodontia.

A Word From Verywell

Missing teeth can affect much more than just your appearance. Like other health issues, the sooner anodontia is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome. If dental insurance or treatment isn't accessible to you, there are free, low-cost, or sliding scale dental care options. Check out nearby dental colleges via the American Dental Association or federally funded community health departments through the Health Resources & Services Administration at HRSA.gov.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How is anodontia diagnosed?

    If baby teeth or permanent teeth do not show signs of developing by the typical age, anodontia can be diagnosed with dental X-rays. Along with a physical examination and questions about family dental history, the X-rays can be used to confirm the absence of teeth in the gums.

  • Is anodontia hereditary?

    Yes. It’s inherited when each parent passes down a mutated (abnormal) gene. If the parents are just carriers of the gene, they won't show signs of anodontia.

  • What other parts of the body does ectodermal dysplasia affect?

    Ectodermal dysplasia is a group of conditions that affect the skin, hair, nails, teeth, or sweat glands. For example, ectodermal dysplasia can cause issues like a lack of sweating, hair loss (alopecia), missing fingernails, or a cleft lip or palate.

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