According to the American College of Prosthodontists, 178 million people in the US are missing at least one tooth, and 35 million don’t have any teeth. Startling figures such as these make it even more important to educate patients about the necessity of replacing lost teeth, and the variety of smile restoration options available to them. Our team is dedicated to helping every patient maintain the optimal level of oral health, and that means both preserving natural teeth and replacing those that are lost.
What do you need to know about options for replacing missing teeth?
When a patient wants to replace missing teeth I recommend we start with a look at all of the remaining teeth and bone.
Here are three options for replacing teeth:
Fixed Bridges: Fixed bridges look and feel like real teeth. They are basically a crown (cap) on each side of the space with an artificial tooth or teeth in the center. They are glued in place with a strong dental cement. Fixed bridges require healthy anchor teeth on each side of the space. Disadvantages of fixed bridges are that they require me to prepare the anchor teeth. By “prepare” I mean reduce the tooth about 1 mm on all sides and 1.5 to 2 mm on top to make room for the crowns that hold the artificial tooth or teeth. Risks involved with preparing a tooth include weakening the tooth structure which can lead to fracture and some chance that the tooth will die and need a root canal. Crowns are completely worth these risks if you need them for other reasons, but I hate to prepare a completely healthy tooth just to use it as an anchor for a bridge IF there is a better option.
Dental Implants: Implants are often the best way to replace missing teeth. They are free standing replacements for the entire root and tooth and therefore do NOT require preparation of the teeth on either side of the space. Made of pure titanium, they are extremely strong. They fuse to the bone after placement during a 3 to 4 month process of healing called osseointegration. Implants also have the wonderful advantage of preserving your natural bone. When a tooth is lost the bone begins to shrink both in height and width. Dental implants prevent this bone loss. They can be placed to replace one or many teeth or to anchor a partial or complete denture. For a single tooth, a crown is placed on the implant. A bridge can be placed on 2 or more implants. The main requirement for dental implants is that there be adequate bone to hold the implants. Fortunately, modern bone grafting allows us to place implants in many places where bone has been lost.
Removable Partial or Complete Dentures: The third way we can replace missing teeth is with removable dentures. If you are missing many teeth, this is likely the least expensive option. Partial dentures require hooks (clasps) on strong natural teeth to hold them in place. Sometimes crowns with tiny attachments (snaps) can be used. Disadvantages of partial dentures include less ideal cosmetics because of the clasps, food packing around the clasps or artificial teeth, loss of retention over time (becoming loose), possibility of decay on the teeth that anchor the partial denture, and a less natural feel due to the need for a metal strap across the palate or bar below the tongue.
Which of these options is right for you? A careful evaluation of all the teeth and gums, bone available for implants and the bite forces in your mouth is necessary to determine what is best for you. Many times there will be more than one acceptable option. I encourage patients to consider their options and invest in the best option that is affordable for them. Replacing teeth is an investment that you can enjoy every day for many years.
Find Out More
If you’re missing one or more teeth, contact Dr. Stefanie Shore in Sacramento. Our dental team will help you find the right option to complete your smile.