One missing tooth can cause a variety of problems. For starters, a missing tooth can make it hard to eat and, depending on its location, can also make it hard to speak properly. A missing tooth will also leave an unsightly gap in your smile. However, these problems are only amplified when you have multiple missing teeth. Whether these missing teeth are adjacent or scattered throughout your mouth, they will unfortunately disrupt your smile, eating habits, and speech.
Not only that, but having multiple missing teeth puts you at risk for dental issues such as premature enamel wear, chipped or cracked teeth, failed restorations, and temporomandibular joint disorder. This is because the remaining teeth in your mouth will shift over time to fill the gaps left by missing teeth. When teeth are no longer in their proper positions, opposing teeth can apply harmful pressure in a way that can quickly wear down the enamel, or worse damage the teeth or dental restorations. Additionally, teeth that have shifted can place additional strain on the jaw joint leading to TMD.
Due to all these problems associated with multiple missing teeth, dentists have developed a variety of restorative procedures in order to replace missing teeth. Two of the most common restorative procedures for replacing missing teeth include dental implants and dentures. Both types of restorations can be used to replace multiple missing teeth, as well as an entire mouth of teeth. However, they do so in different ways.
To replace missing teeth, dental implants act as artificial tooth roots that support a dental prosthetic. These implants are surgically placed in the jawbone and left to heal for several months before a dental prosthetic is mounted on top of them. In cases of multiple missing teeth, an implant-supported bridge or implant-supported denture is generally used. Dental implants are a fixed restorative method, meaning they remain permanently inside the mouth.
Since dental implants are placed into the jawbone and remain in the mouth permanently, they keep the bone healthy by providing essential stimulation. In order to prevent bone from being absorbed back into the body, the jawbone must receive pressure from the forces of chewing. Without this stimulation, the bone will eventually begin to deteriorate.
In order for dental implants to be successful, however, they must fuse with the surrounding bone tissue. This means that before implants can be placed, there must be adequate bone tissue available. In some cases, bone grafts may be able to be used to build up the bone mass and allow for the safe placement of implants. In other cases, some patients may simply not be ideal candidates for implants.
On the other hand, traditional dentures replace missing teeth with a set of fake teeth mounted onto an acrylic base made to look like artificial gums. This acrylic base is fabricated to match the contours of the gums in order to hold the denture in place. In some cases, partial dentures may also be used. Partial dentures are usually secured by a metal framework that may or may not be visible. Unlike dental implants, dentures are a removable restorative method.
Since dentures are placed on top of the gums, they do not provide the same type of jawbone stimulation as dental implants. This means that the bone will eventually deteriorate over time and cause the facial structure to change shape. Because of this, the dentures will likely need to be adjusted or replaced to maintain a proper fit. However one main benefit of not being placed in the jawbone, is that dentures do not require a minimal amount of bone mass for candidacy and can be used on almost any patient with multiple missing teeth.
As you can see, dental implants and dentures both provide a different approach to replacing multiple missing teeth. While this is only a brief glance of the two restorative methods, it provides some insight on their key differences. Ultimately, however, to know which method would be ideal for you, it is recommended to speak with a cosmetic dentist about your individual case and treatment goals.
Dr. Gerard J. Lemongello Jr. graduated from the University of Florida College of Dentistry and has been in private practice since 1987. His focus is on cosmetic and comprehensive restorative rehabilitative dentistry. He is a member of the American Dental Association, Florida Dental Association and Academy of General Dentistry, and is an accredited member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.