Teeth are not just for chewing. They play a vital role in the body, health and self-esteem. While it’s true that teeth are crucial for chewing food to prepare it for digestion and the absorption of nutrients, teeth are also important for proper speech and communication. Missing teeth cause speech problems. They may cause a person to mispronounce some words; and they can cause great difficulty in making certain speech sounds.
Teeth have a tremendous impact on our appearance and, consequently, on our confidence level. Missing front teeth can cause shame and fear of being ridiculed. Missing back teeth can cause the cheeks to be depressed and the jaws to be more prominent. A person with missing teeth generally looks older than their true age.
Even the loss of a single tooth feels uncomfortable. Patients complain of food impaction at the edentulous space during meals. Patients who are missing front teeth may be very self-conscious of their appearance. They often go to great lengths to avoid smiling or otherwise revealing the gap in their teeth.
Several treatment options are available to address the problem of missing teeth. Traditionally, dentures were the main treatment option. If only a few teeth are missing, a removable partial denture may be used. For a completely edentulous (toothless) patient, a complete denture may be used. Both partial dentures and full dentures are removable.
Fortunately there are better and more permanent choices available today. There are two treatment options that provide a fixed dental solution — dental implants and dental bridges. Both treatment options are widely used with great success in restoring function and esthetics. The best procedure to be done in any particular case depends on the patient’s needs and desires, their budget, and their existing dental health.
Dental implants are the latest, and often the best, treatment option for both single or multiple missing teeth.
A patient who wishes to have dental implants undergoes a thorough medical and dental history interview in order to ensure the patient is a good candidate for the procedure. Of particular concern is jaw bone health.
A nickel titanium post is surgically placed within the jaw bone. The number of posts to be placed depends on the number of missing teeth. A single missing tooth would require one post, while a whole arch would require six posts. The post will serve as the anchorage and support for the fixed dental prosthesis. A part of the post is embedded into bone and a small part is clinically seen inside the mouth. That small clinically-seen part would be the abutment for the dental prosthesis (the dental implant).
Healing of the gingiva (gums) and bone usually takes about three months. The bone surrounding the post should completely heal and adapt to the post within that time frame. That process is called osseointegration. Proper osseointegration results in the post becoming stable enough to serve as the anchor for the implant.
Once healing is successful and the prosthetic teeth are inserted, the transformation can be spectacular! Patients leave the dental office with a beautiful new smile with fully functional teeth.
Dental bridges are another option for treating missing teeth when the patient has a short-span edentulous space (I.e. when only one or two teeth are missing). As with dental implants, the dentist will obtain a thorough medical and dental history prior to treatment.
Unlike a dental implant procedure, no surgery is involved with dental bridges. The whole treatment can usually be completed in about 2 weeks.
The teeth adjacent to the edentulous space are used as abutments. Those teeth serve as anchors for the prosthetic teeth in the edentulous space. The abutments are reduced in size, to allow sufficient space for placement of the bridge. An impression is taken by the dentist, and then it is sent to a laboratory technician to fabricate the bridge.
Once the prosthesis has been fabricated, it is returned to the dentist who makes any necessary adjustments to properly fit the bridge to the patient. Once proper fit and comfort are achieved, the bridge is cemented into place.
Whether the patient receives dental implants or a dental bridge, the patient must continue a daily oral hygiene regimen along with regular dental checkups and cleanings. The dentist should conduct a thorough examination of the patient’s overall oral hygiene status at least once each year.
The dentist will also verify continued proper fit and condition of the prosthetic and crowns. Defects, crack and other damage in a prosthetic or crown must be promptly repaired. Early detection of those problems typically allows for easier, less-expensive repairs and will help to avoid decay and bacterial infection.
If properly maintained, dental implants and dental bridges will last for many years.