Missing Teeth

examining the smileFew things in life are more disconcerting than losing a permanent tooth. The loss of a front tooth significantly affects your appearance and ability to speak, while a missing back tooth makes it a challenge to chew. 

Regardless of where the gap is located, missing teeth can take a serious physical and psychological toll. It is important to replace missing teeth as soon as possible to prevent more widespread damage.

Reasons for Missing Teeth

There are several possible reasons for tooth loss, but the most common is dental disease—either dental caries (cavities) or periodontal (gum) disease. Teeth may also be extracted for reasons that relate to a history of dental disease—for example, the failure of a root canal that cannot be retreated or a large filling with recurrent decay.

Many teeth are also lost because they have fractured under heavy biting forces and cannot be restored. Likewise, traumatic incidents, such as sporting or automobile accidents, account for many badly broken teeth that consequently must be replaced. Occasionally, a space is present because the permanent tooth is congenitally missing.

Should All Missing Teeth Be Replaced?

Patients often wonder if a tooth that is missing really needs to be replaced. In nearly all cases, the answer is yes, for both aesthetic and functional reasons. Teeth are not only essential for chewing, but they affect the way you speak and look. When a tooth is lost, the adjacent teeth on either side of the gap tend to drift towards the space. This natural movement can affect your bite and cause a host of issues, including misalignment. In addition, new spaces between these teeth and neighboring teeth can harbor food and bacteria. This can increase your risk of gum disease and infection.

As soon as a tooth is lost, the jawbone can begin to deteriorate, as it does not receive vital nutrients from the dental roots. Jawbone loss can lead to more widespread damage, including changes to your facial structure. As a result, it is important to replace missing teeth as soon as possible to protect the integrity of your smile.

Replacing Missing Teeth

The art of replacing missing teeth is a dental specialty known as prosthodontics. Most dentists are well-qualified to provide their patients with dental prostheses, but more complex cases are often handled by specialists. There are several ways that missing teeth can be replaced.

Full Denture

This prosthesis consists of a custom-fitted acrylic plate with porcelain or plastic teeth. The plate sits comfortably on the bony ridge of the upper and/or lower jaw. Dentures can improve your ability to eat and speak, though they do not address jawbone degeneration. 

Removable Partial Denture

Partial dentures are designed to address several missing teeth. These prostheses typically have metal clasps that attach to neighboring teeth. Though they can improve dental function, they are more visible than other options. 

Fixed Partial Denture

Also called a fixed bridge or simply a bridge, this prosthesis provides a means of replacing one or two missing teeth. It is fixed because it is permanently cemented in place over two teeth on either side of the gap, known as abutment teeth. A bridge contains a replacement tooth (or teeth) called a pontic. 

To accommodate a bridge, the abutment teeth must be reshaped. As a result, these teeth must always be covered by a restoration in the future to prevent sensitivity and decay.

dental implantsDental Implant

These revolutionary devices replace lost tooth roots and provide unparalleled support for restorations. Implants are small titanium posts that are embedded in the jawbone. They avoid most of the problems seen in fixed and removable partial dentures, as they do not require any teeth to be reshaped and they can stimulate the jawbone to protect against bone loss.

After an implant is placed, it will fuse with surrounding tissue in a process known as osseointegration. This ensures a strong, stable foundation for a crown, bridge, or denture. The treatment timeline is typically three to six months. However, keep in mind that some patients require preparatory procedures if they do not qualify for a dental implant because of prior bone degeneration. Preliminary treatments such as a bone graft or sinus lift can extend the timeline by several months.

Prevention Is the Best Policy

It goes without saying that the best way for patients to avoid missing teeth is to take care of the ones they have. Patients should make it a lifetime practice to diligently follow the preventive recommendations of their dentist and dental hygienist. They should visit their doctor twice a year for biannual exams and cleanings and maintain a strong oral hygiene regimen. This home care program should include daily flossing and brushing twice a day. To schedule a regular checkup or to address more serious concerns, reach out to your dentist today

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