The rows of teeth in our mouth have something of a symbiotic relationship; they don’t just exist to help us chew our food, but they also rely on each other to maintain the mouth’s shape and function. When a person experiences tooth loss or needs one or more teeth removed, it leaves a gap in the tooth line that can cause many different types of complications unless the gap is filled. The remaining teeth may drift, making it more difficult to chew and distorting the person’s smile, even changing the structure of the face. There is also at greater risk of infection, disease, tooth decay and further tooth loss. For this reason, oral surgeons and dentists highly recommend filling the gap with one of a variety of dental prostheses.
What is a dental prosthesis?
A dental prosthesis is considered any oral object or device installed in the mouth to reconstruct the natural structure of the teeth, either to replace missing teeth, replace parts of missing teeth or prevent tooth loss — to restore function and to help keep other teeth in their place. In this manner, a dental prosthetic is very much like any other type of prosthetic you might use for a missing body part, like a prosthetic arm or leg. Depending on the type and function, a dental prosthetic can be either fixed or removable. Let’s look at seven different types of dental prostheses and how they are used.
A crown is a dental cap designed to fit over a broken or damaged tooth that could otherwise be lost or cause infection. The existing tooth and parts of nearby teeth may be ground down to make room for the crown, and if necessary, a root canal will be performed on the damaged tooth. A crown is a fixed prosthetic that when installed will restore the tooth to its proper function. Crowns wear out over time and may eventually be replaced.
A bridge is designed to fill the gap left between teeth by one or more missing teeth. The bridge is affixed by caps over the adjacent teeth (called “Bridge”), which must be prepped and may be ground down to support the bridge itself. An impression will be taken off the abutments after prepping them so the caps can be molded to match the shape of those teeth when the bridge is installed.
Inlays and onlays are fixed prosthetics used to repair and restore an existing tooth that is decayed, cracked or damaged, effectively restoring the tooth’s shape and function. Inlays and onlays are constructed of harder material like metal or a composite substance; they are created in a lab and are usually used to replace an old filling with a more permanent solution. Inlays reconstruct part of a tooth, while onlays are larger and effectively reconstruct the cusp of the tooth.
Dental veneers are thin, porcelain shells designed to fit atop existing teeth (usually the front teeth). They serve a primarily cosmetic function and are usually used to cover discolored or chipped teeth to restore an attractive smile. Veneers are permanent prosthetics that bond to the front of the teeth.
5. Partial Dentures
A partial denture is a reconstruction designed to fill in the gaps for several missing teeth. An impression is taken of the patient’s mouth and a framework is devised with false teeth (dentures) affixed to replace the missing teeth. When installed properly, the framework fits snugly in the mouth to replicate the full set of teeth. Partial dentures are removable and must be kept clean to prevent infections. Patients with partial dentures may also need to avoid certain foods. (nuts, sesame seeds, etc.)
6. Full Dentures
When the entire top or bottom arch of teeth (or both top and bottom) is completely missing or needs to be extracted, a set of full dentures may be created to replace those teeth. Full dentures are removable, typically worn during the day using an adhesive and removed and cleaned at night. Dentures are more affordable than some other dental prosthetic options, but they don’t solve all problems. Without permanent replacement teeth, the patient will experience bone loss in the jaw.
7. Dental Implants
While dental implants are the most expensive among the dental prostheses, they are also the most permanent and long-lasting solution for patients with missing teeth. Implants are fixed prosthetics that can replace a single tooth, several teeth, an entire row or a complete set of teeth. Implants are installed in two stages: First, titanium posts are implanted into the jaw bone where the natural teeth used to be. The posts bond to the jaw over several months, at which time the permanent prosthetic teeth are created. When the posts are ready, the dentist installs the permanent teeth on the implanted posts. When finished, these implants look and act like your natural teeth, and with proper dental care can last for many years without replacement — often for the remainder of the patient’s life.
As you can see, there are many types of dental prostheses, and not every solution is right for everyone. To discuss your options, call Riverside Oral Facial Surgery at (706) 235-5570.