Your appearance is one reason. Another is that the gap left by a missing tooth can mean more strain is put on the teeth at either side. A gap can also mean your ‘bite’ is affected, because the teeth next to the space can lean into the gap and change the way the upper and lower teeth bite together. This can then lead to food getting packed into the gap, which causes tooth decay and gum disease.
How are missing teeth replaced?
This depends on the number of teeth missing and on where they are in your mouth. The condition of the teeth you still have also affects the decision.
There are three main ways to replace missing teeth. The first is with a removable false tooth (or teeth) – called a partial denture. The second is with a fixed bridge. A bridge is usually used when there are fewer teeth to replace, or when the missing teeth are only on one side of the mouth. The third way is by the use of dental ‘implants’. This is where an artificial root is placed into the bone of the jaw and a crown or bridge placed on top of this.
What is a partial denture?
This is a plate with one or more false teeth on it. It may be all plastic or a mixture of metal and plastic. Both types may have clips (clasps) to help keep the denture in place in your mouth. Depending on where they are, some of these clips may show when you smile or open your mouth.
What is the difference between a plastic partial denture and one that contains metal?
Plastic partial dentures are less expensive to make. But unless they are designed very carefully they can damage the teeth they fit against.
Metal partial dentures are usually made from an alloy of cobalt and chromium, and they are much stronger.
They are lighter to wear and can be supported by the remaining teeth. Although the base is metal, they have gum-coloured plastic and natural-looking teeth fixed to them. They are more expensive than plastic ones.
How do I choose the best type for me?
Be guided by your dentist. They will know the condition of your remaining teeth. In most cases a metal-based partial denture gives the best result.
Can I have a bridge fitted straight after having a tooth removed?
It can take up to 6 months for your gums to heal properly after an extraction. This means that you may need to have a temporary denture before the bridge is fitted.
What is the alternative to a partial denture?
The main alternatives are a fixed bridge or a dental implant. A dental bridge is made by putting crowns on the teeth at either side of the gap, and then joining these two crowns together by placing a false tooth in the space.
This is all made in the laboratory and then the pieces are cemented into place with special adhesives. The bridge can’t be removed.
Another option is an adhesive bridge. This has ‘wings’ that are bonded to the back of the supporting teeth, with very little drilling needed.
Can I always have a bridge to replace missing teeth?
You can have a bridge only if you have enough strong teeth with good bone support. Your dental team will help you decide which the best way of replacing missing teeth is.
What are bridges made of?
Bridges are usually made of porcelain bonded to precious metal. Sometimes other non-precious metals are used in the base for strength. There are also new bridges made entirely of a special type of strong porcelain.
Can I have teeth which attach to the jawbone?
Yes, by having implants. The success of this technique means you may be able to replace missing teeth without crowning other teeth.
Remember that it is as important to care for your remaining teeth as it is to replace the missing ones.