Do you have missing teeth? Maybe no teeth at all? From your diet to your self-esteem, you rely on a healthy smile to get you through the day. Depending on your circumstances, there are multiple missing teeth replacement options out there to choose from. Understanding how they’re different—and the advantages of each one—can make your smile reconstruction journey a little less stressful.
There are several different reasons why someone may have missing teeth. The #1 reason for tooth loss in the United States is periodontal (gum) disease. Periodontitis destroys the gums and bone that physically support your teeth. What starts as sore or bleeding gums eventually evolves into loose teeth that fall out on their own.
Regardless of how many teeth you’re missing, there are safe and comfortable missing teeth replacement options to consider.
Whether you’re looking to immediately replace your missing teeth, have long-term goals for the future, or you’ve gone years suffering from natural tooth loss, some types of treatments may be better than others. Thanks to advanced technology and modern materials, there are more options now than there have been in the past.
Not every restoration or treatment works for everyone. By familiarizing yourself with each one, you can determine if it’s even worth talking to your dentist about. Chances are, there will be a few different choices that you qualify for. Once you know which ones are applicable, your dentist can help you weigh the advantages of each.
Depending on your timeline, budget, and aesthetic goals, one or two of the following choices will probably be your best bet:
Dental implants are the most cost-effective option for replacing missing teeth. They’re literally designed to last for the rest of your life. Plus, implants support healthy bone tissue and aren’t invasive to adjacent teeth. Implants look and feel natural, so other people won’t be able to tell the difference between them and any other teeth you have. Since they mirror anatomical teeth, your facial profile and soft tissue support are also enhanced. Hands down, having dental implants is the closest thing you can get to having real teeth all over again.
Dental implants do require a bit of an investment upfront. They almost always cost more than bridges, dentures, or partials. But on the other hand, they still offer you the best return on investment (saving you money over time.) You’ll also want to consider that implant therapy tends to require about six months or so, giving your implants plenty of time to integrate. They’re not a once-and-done type of treatment.
Dentures are replacement teeth. Full dentures are one of the quickest and cheapest ways to replace all of your teeth at one time. And you can get them from just about any dental office in most cases.
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As great as the cost and timeframe may seem, there are a lot of disadvantages to wearing dentures. First of all, they’re big and bulky and take up a lot of room in your mouth. This can make them harder to talk and eat with. They’re also not as comfortable as you might expect them to be. Even though they’re tailored to your anatomy, there can still be some rubbing or pressure that bothers you. On a long-term basis, dentures can cost you more money since they need to be replaced every several years. As your mouth changes (from bone loss) you’ll also find that the denture will need to be adjusted or relined so that it fits properly. And if you have any healthy teeth, they’ll need to be extracted to make room for the denture.
Unlike conventional bridges that require grinding down two healthy teeth, an implant bridge is non-invasive to natural teeth. Plus, implants are stronger so it’s possible to place longer dental bridges on them than you would on real teeth. It’s typical to replace anywhere from 3-4 teeth at a time with implant-supported bridges, whereas a traditional bridge on real teeth can only replace 1-2 teeth. And if you only need to restore a single tooth, you won’t have to drill down the adjacent ones to anchor a bridge; just ask your dentist to install an individual implant and top it off with a crown!
Dental implant bridges typically cost more than traditional bridges and partial dentures simply due to the cost of the restoration plus the implants themselves. And then there’s also the time requirement you’ll need for the implants to integrate before a crown or bridge can be installed (3-6 months).
These implant-stabilized treatments make it possible to replace all of your missing teeth at one time. They come in two styles: removable overdentures (snap-on full dentures) that are fixed onto 2-4 implants, and hybrid fixed dentures such as “All-on-4” or “All-on-6”. In the majority of cases, “implant-supported dentures” are the removable ones that clip in and out. So, if you’re shopping for one or the other and see huge price differences, make sure you know whether or not it’s a removable overdenture or a fixed hybrid appliance (full mouth implants.)
You don’t need an implant placement for every natural tooth that’s missing. As few as 2-4 dental implants are required to support a full-arch prosthesis. Plus, dental implants can last for the rest of your life. Overdentures are great for people who have bone loss and can’t get a good, stable fit from traditional dentures. And the permanent hybrid versions take up way less space in your mouth, making them easier to talk and eat with.
Implant-supported dentures cost more than regular dentures do. You may also need at least a few months for the implants to integrate before the denture can snap onto them.
A partial denture is a prosthesis that replaces the teeth you’re missing. It snaps into place next to your healthy, remaining natural teeth. Most partials are made from a metal or acrylic base.
With partials, you can replace all of your missing teeth at one time. Plus, you don’t have to remove any of the healthy teeth you still have. In some cases, your dentist might be able to add to your partial in the future, should you lose another tooth. Partials are relatively inexpensive tooth replacements compared to dental implants. And unlike fixed bridges, partials don’t require reshaping the tops of your teeth to bond another restoration in place.
Partials use clasps to help hold them in your mouth. Sometimes the pressure and fit of a clasp can actually damage the teeth that help support them. Some specialists say they can cause those teeth to rock or lean, weakening them in the jaw. Over time, they can also start to feel loose because of changes in your bone and tooth alignment. And if your partial has a chrome base, there will be visible metal when you’re smiling or talking.
Not interested in any of the above-mentioned missing teeth replacement options? You always have the final choice of doing nothing at all.
Doing nothing about your missing teeth doesn’t cost you anything. There are no appointments to schedule or dental bills to pay. You’ve made it this far, right? Why bother replacing your tooth or teeth if it’s already been several years or you just don’t think it’s right for you. As long as you’re not in pain and don’t feel embarrassed about the way you look—and you can eat ok—you may not place all that much value in a tooth replacement treatment.
Not replacing your missing teeth will eventually catch up with you. Even if you can’t tell, your mouth and bone will start to change. Gradually your jaws will weaken and the way they chew can impact your TMJ. Not only does the loss of teeth and bone cause your face to age, but it can also make it more challenging to fit you with a denture later on. This changing process tends to be gradual over the years, so it may be difficult to notice.
Anytime someone has missing teeth or no teeth, it physically changes the:
Tooth loss triggers something called “bone resorption”, which is where the bone physically begins to shrink (resorb). It starts where the missing tooth root used to be. Resorption can weaken the support of neighboring teeth and cause your jaw to look shorter than it actually is. As a side effect, you’ll see changes in your facial profile and more sunken-in tissues resulting in premature aging.
If you still have some healthy teeth, the space that’s created by missing teeth will cause them to drift out of alignment. Even if you’ve had perfectly straight teeth in the past, your smile will start to move. Teeth will begin to tilt, lean, or erupt further out of the socket. All of these scenarios create the perfect storm for:
And then there are the dietary side effects caused by no teeth. If you can’t properly chew nutritious foods, your body won’t be able to absorb the vitamins and nutrients it needs to stay healthy. Chances are you’ll probably shift to softer, processed foods that aren’t as good for you. And we all know that what we eat impacts how healthy we are!
Here are some important tips to prevent missing teeth caused by cavities:
By the point your teeth are physically mobile, you’ll want to see a dentist to avoid damage to other teeth in your mouth. It may be necessary to go ahead and extract those teeth for therapeutic purposes, replace them, and then work to maintain the healthy teeth you still have.
If you already have missing teeth or no teeth at all, it’s not too late to talk to a dentist. Even if you’ve lived this way for years. Missing teeth replacement options can be tailored to your specific smile to help you regain full oral function and self-confidence.
Depending on how many missing teeth you have, your tooth replacement treatment choices can vary. With only one or two missing teeth, you might want a dental implant crown or bridge. For no teeth at all, a denture or hybrid implant dentures could both work. Missing teeth replacement options vary from person to person, as each one serves unique purposes. But one thing is for certain: restoring your smile can help you live a happier and healthier life. Plan to replace missing teeth as early as you can to minimize side effects like bone loss or changes in your facial profile. Your dentist can help you make a game plan and select the best treatment for missing teeth as it relates to your circumstances.
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