Taking care of missing teeth
According to studies done by the U.S. Surgeon General, more than seven percent of Americans by the age of 17 are missing at least one permanent tooth. For the sake of oral health, when you lose a tooth it is generally a good idea to have it replaced. Missing teeth can affect your bite as well as your ability to speak and chew. Tooth loss can also cause jaw pain, headaches, and increased strain on remaining teeth. Most importantly, perhaps, losing a tooth can affect your overall appearance and self-esteem.
Replacing a missing tooth usually is not an emergency situation. Typically, you have time to make an educated decision as to which replacement option is best for you. Most of the procedures used to replace a tooth can be completed in a month or two.
If you are missing one or more teeth and would like to smile, speak, and eat again with comfort and confidence, there are several options to consider:
- A dental flipper is the least expensive way to replace a missing tooth. Often it is used as a temporary tooth replacement while you wait for a dental bridge or for healing after a dental implant. Made out of acrylic, a dental flipper is created by taking an impression of your mouth, and then pouring a plaster cast. The cast is sent to the laboratory with a prescription that includes the shade of the tooth. An acrylic tooth is selected that most closely matches the shade of your teeth, and a pink plate is molded to fit your palate (on the upper) or to fit just inside the tongue side of your teeth (on the lower). While a dental flipper is meant to be temporary, some people wear them for years. But they do press somewhat on the gums, which is not very healthy. They also break easily, and can make eating difficult.
- Removable partial dentures usually consist of replacement teeth attached to pink or gum-colored plastic bases that are connected by metal framework. Removable partial dentures attach to your natural teeth with metal clasps or devices called precision attachments. Precision attachments are generally more esthetic than metal clasps and are nearly invisible. Crowns on your natural teeth may improve the fit of a removable partial denture and are usually required with precision attachments. Dentures with precision attachments generally cost more than those with metal clasps.
- A dental bridge is a device used to fill the space where a tooth has fallen out or been removed. A typical dental bridge consists of a pontic (a filler tooth) that is attached to two surrounding abutments (dental crowns). Once completed, this dental bridge structure is bonded into the mouth. Dental bridges safeguard the integrity of existing teeth and help maintain a healthy, vibrant smile.
- Complete dentures are used to replace teeth when there are no teeth remaining. The teeth are made of prefabricated acrylic that comes in many sizes, shapes, and shades. Processed into a custom-made acrylic base, the dentures are made to intimately and comfortably fit the gum tissue in your mouth. Making a quality complete set of dentures usually takes five appointments because each patient’s oral tissue is unique, as is the relationship of the upper and lower jaws. Every patient also has unique esthetic requirements depending on the size, shape, and tone of the face and jaws. All five appointments are crucial for a final denture that looks, fits, and works well.
- A dental implant is an artificial tooth root that is placed into the jaw to hold a replacement tooth or bridge. Dental implants are an ideal option for people in good general oral health who have lost a tooth or teeth due to 1) periodontal disease, 2) an injury, or 3) some other reason. While high-tech in nature, dental implants actually save more teeth than traditional bridgework, since implants do not rely on neighboring teeth for support. Dental implants look and feel so natural that you may forget you ever lost a tooth!