Losing a tooth can be traumatic experience but the good news is that there are good options for replacing missing teeth. It’s important for you to know what your options are and why it’s important to replace missing teeth. People from all walks of life lose teeth. There are many reasons why people lose teeth but the most common include cavities, fracture, and loss of bone supporting the tooth.
Losing a tooth can have a negative impact on other areas of your mouth if that tooth is not replaced. One thing that most people don’t consider when losing a tooth is how it affects the surrounding bone. When a tooth is removed, a large void is left in the surrounding bone and as it heals over the next 5-6 months that bone will cave in on itself leaving a thin and skinny ridge. A less than Ideal scenario when considering replacing a missing tooth with an implant.
Another consequence of a missing tooth is that surrounding teeth will tend to shift or drift into missing spaces. Teeth need to be upright in order absorb the required forces of chewing. Picture hitting a nail with a hammer. It is most effective if the nail is straight up and down. If a nail is hit at an angle it will bend and won’t absorb the forces of the hammer. This is the same with teeth, if a tooth shifts and leans forward it creates poor long-term functional (biting) value, it can cause fracture and bone loss around that tooth leading to another potential casualty.
Another thing to consider when you lose a tooth is that other teeth have to pick up the load. People with missing teeth tend to prefer one side over the other ultimately working that side more than the other. This causes more wear and tear on those remaining teeth increasing the risk of fracture or failure of those existing teeth.
Missing teeth can have a negative impact on our bite, the health of other teeth and also affect our esthetics which can lead to decrease in self-confidence. We see these negative outcomes daily in our office.
Let’s start with the best option, which like anything in life is the most expensive option. This would be a dental implant. Dental implants have become the gold standard in replacing missing teeth. A titanium post is placed in your jaw where the roots of your original tooth were. The bone will grow and become one with the implant and this will preserve the surrounding bone. This healing process takes about 3-4 months. After healing is complete a crown is attached to the implant and off you go. You now have a tooth that you can floss, brush, smile and chew with. You have also preserved the integrity of the bone and prevented other teeth from shifting. The best of both worlds.
Another option for replacing missing teeth is a bridge. This is where you use the two healthy teeth adjacent to the missing space as anchors. Those teeth are prepared by removing tooth structure just like you would do for a dental crown or cap. A dental lab then fabricates a custom bridge (2 abutments with a fake tooth in the middle) that can be permanently cemented onto the two anchors. This option is good, but it fails in that it doesn’t preserve bone, it relies on other teeth, and they can be difficult to keep clean.
One last option to consider would be a partial denture. The big advantage to a partial denture is that it can replace many missing teeth and is much more affordable. A partial is an appliance that is built around your existing teeth. It has a metal framework and acrylic teeth. It is not permanently fixed meaning you can take it in and out of your mouth. The disadvantages are that is doesn’t preserve bone, it relies heavily on other healthy teeth, and can be difficult to keep clean. They can also be bulky and uncomfortable at times.
Losing one tooth might not seem like a big deal but it often creates a series of problems that becomes more complicated and expensive to fix at a later date. The reasons to replace missing teeth are to restore function and esthetics, and prevent shifting. People often undervalue the importance of their mouth so I encourage you to replace that missing tooth with an implant. It’s a larger upfront investment but it will pay off in the long-term.