Surveys show that almost seven out of ten adults are missing at least one tooth. If you are one, you may have already experienced some aesthetic or social problems. Other issues related to tooth loss are less visible, but could negatively impact your health. These include nutritional difficulties, oral health issues, and bone loss.
Fortunately, there are a number of options for replacing missing teeth which generally fall into three categories: crowns and bridges, removable dentures, and dental implants. Which one is best for you? It depends on your individual situation.
Smile Options at a Glance
Crowns and Bridges
If a tooth is missing most or all of its visible part, but still has healthy roots, it can often be restored with a crown (sometimes called a cap). Custom-fabricated in a dental laboratory, crowns can be made of gold, porcelain-fused-to-metal, or all-ceramic (porcelain). Crown restorations, which are permanently attached to the tooth’s roots, are often needed following certain dental procedures, such as root canals.
A fixed bridge is used to replace one or more teeth that are completely missing. It is a single unit consisting of one (or more) crowns on either end, plus one or more artificial (prosthetic) teeth in the middle. The crowns are placed on the healthy teeth adjacent to the gap, and the prosthetic teeth in between substitute for your missing teeth. When properly placed, bridgework looks natural and is relatively permanent. However, some healthy tooth structure must be removed from the teeth that are crowned; this increases the risk that they could develop tooth decay, gum problems or root canal problems in the future.
An economical method of tooth replacement, dentures have been around for many, many years. There are many different types of dentures, including:
- Removable full dentures replace all the top and/or bottom teeth, and are easy to take out of your mouth.
- Removable partial dentures replace some of your teeth, and are also easily removed.
- Implant-supported overdentures are full dentures held in place by two or more dental implants. This keeps them from slipping, yet allows them to be removed.
Dentures offer a functional solution to the problems of missing teeth that most people are able to adjust to in time. However, some denture wearers have difficulty eating and speaking properly, and dentures accelerate bone loss in the jaw.
The current gold standard for tooth replacement, dental implants are tiny, screw-like posts that are inserted into the jawbone in a minor surgical procedure. Made of titanium metal, the implant actually becomes fused to your bone for a solid connection, yet stays hidden beneath the gum line. Lifelike crowns are attached to the implants, making them look (and feel) just like real teeth. Implants can be used to replace one tooth, multiple teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. They even help prevent future bone loss in the jaw. While initially the most expensive tooth-replacement option, implants are designed to last a lifetime; this can make them a good long-term value.