A missing tooth can cause many problems — it could be causing bone loss in your jaw, reducing chewing function or even reducing your chances of promotion.
These days a missing tooth isn’t something that has to be permanent; almost any gap in your teeth caused by a lost tooth or teeth can now be filled in a variety of ways.
As well as having a clear aesthetic effect — people tend to notice your smile first, so good dentistry can help you make better first impressions — there are a whole host of functional and health reasons for filling in spaces, especially those at the back that are less visible. It is imperative that whichever procedure or treatment you undergo, the function of your teeth as a whole is taken into consideration as an alteration to a single tooth can change your whole bite.
Dentures can be a cost-effective way to replace missing teeth, whether you want to replace a single tooth or a full set. They are the most basic form of tooth replacement and can be removed for cleaning and reinserted. They are usually constructed from plastic, sometimes with a metal sub-frame for strength.
One of the advantages of dentures is that they are relatively cheap and easy to maintain and can be indistinguishable from normal teeth if they are constructed with care.
Unfortunately, as dentures aren’t secured in the mouth in the same way that bridges and implants are, there is a high likelihood of movement when eating and speaking and they can have a minor effect on speech and your sense of taste.
There are two types of bridgework: conventional bridgework and resin retained bridgework. Both are fixed and rely on support from surrounding teeth.
Conventional bridgework uses the teeth either side of the gap as supports for the bridge. In some cases, this may involve the cutting of otherwise intact teeth and potentially the removal of sound and healthy tissue from the support teeth. Unfortunately, this can reduce the long-term prognosis of the support teeth and jeopardise the pulp or nerve of the tooth. However, if the supporting teeth already have crowns or fillings, conventional bridgework may have a far smaller impact on them. Conventional bridgework is reliant on support from the underlying teeth and therefore it is vital that your dentist has a clear idea of your dental health prior to starting.
Resin retained bridgework involves a similar method to conventional bridges but involves the ‘bridge’ tooth being attached to one or two adjacent teeth with a metal or ceramic wing. As the bridge is held in solely by the bonding between the support teeth and the wing, they tend to work better at the front of the mouth where the bite is usually lighter and more stable.
Implants are often the best option for replacing missing teeth, so long as there is sufficient bone mass in the jaw and no ongoing gum disease.
Dental implants are a relatively recent treatment option and, unlike bridges or dentures, tend to be standalone,not affecting or reliant on adjacent teeth; implants mimic natural teeth, being embedded in the bone of the jaw.
The ‘root’ of a dental implant is constructed from medical-grade titanium which can be alloyed with zirconium. Both of these are biocompatible, causing no irritation to the gum, and are strong, durable and over time able to fuse directly with the bone of the jaw. Attached to the root is an abutment, the piece which connects directly to the overlying crown, bridge (dental implants can replace multiple missing teeth with one part) or denture (mini dental implants can secure a denture to make it more comfortable and practical to wear.
If you’re thinking of having a tooth or teeth replaced, speak to your dentist. They should be able to advise you of your options — especially if you have any conditions that may affect your jaw or gums, such as osteoporosis — and give you advice on your first step to filling that gap.