Oral Health Foundation Why should I replace missing teeth?
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-colored plastic and natural-looking teeth fixed to them. They are more expensive than plastic ones. If you are uncertain which type is best for you, consult your dentist. 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.
How do I look after my denture?
To clean your dentures, the general rule is: brush and soak every day. Brush your dentures first, to help remove any bits of food. Use a non-abrasive denture cleaner, not toothpaste. Be careful not to scrub too hard as this may cause grooves in the surface.
Soak your dentures every day in a denture-cleaning solution. This will help remove any plaque and stubborn stains that are left. It will also help to disinfect your dentures, leaving them feeling fresher. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Don't keep your dentures in overnight unless there are specific reasons for you to keep them in.
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.
You can have a bridge only if you have enough strong teeth with good bone support. Your dental team will help you decide which is the best way of replacing missing teeth. 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.
How do I care for my bridge?
You need to clean your bridge every day, to prevent problems such as bad breath and gum disease. You also have to clean under the false tooth every day. Your dentist or hygienist will show you how to use a bridge needle or special floss, as a normal toothbrush cannot reach.