Lost teeth can lead to functional problems, pronunciation problems and can look unsightly. Therefore, if you lose teeth as an adult they need to be replaced. There are several techniques that can be used to replace lost teeth but currently the best method lies with the use of dental implants. Before I explain why, let’s have a look at the alternatives.
The oldest method of replacing lost teeth is to use dentures, commonly referred to as false teeth. Dentures have been used since at least 700bc and over the years have been made from wood, porcelain and hippopotamus ivory. Nowadays they are made from polymethylmethacrylate, or acrylic to you and me. Dentures can be complete or partial, depending upon the degree of tooth loss. Modern dentures can achieve a very good cosmetic appearance and can be an effective solution for many people. But there are problems. Weight-gain or weight-loss will affect their fit, some people do not tolerate having what is in effect a foreign body in their mouths and they can cause soreness and ulceration of the gums and palate.
Another technique for tooth replacement is to use a ‘bridge’. As the name suggests, this is a prosthetic unit that is used to ‘bridge’ the gaps that result from missing teeth. A bridge consists of two parts; the ‘pontic’ (derived from the latin for bridge) is the part that spans the gap and the two crowns at either side of the pontic fix to the teeth adjacent to the edentulous, or toothless, area. One of the main problems that occurs with bridges is gum infections, or gingivitis, in the area under the bridge as they can be difficult to keep clean and well maintained.
Finally, there are crowns which are prosthetic devices used to replace single, broken teeth. The crown will be made from acrylic in the exact of the lost tooth and held in place with a peg that is inserted into the retained root of the broken tooth.
Whilst all of these methods can be effective and have their place, dental implants have some important advantages. One of the most important consequences of tooth loss is bone atrophy or wasting. It seems that the body doesn’t like keeping hold of what it doesn’t need. When a tooth is lost, the bone mass around the area which was supporting the tooth starts to atrophy. People who are entirely edentulous can experience considerable wasting of both the upper and lower jaw.
Dental implants avoid this problem as they are fixed directly into the bone beneath the gums and so the bone continues to be required as structural support. Also, as they are more continuous and integrated into the existing row of teeth, modern implants are easier to keep clean and require less specific maintenance. Finally, implants have greater structural integrity and better aesthetic outcomes than other approaches. Put simply, they are the best method of tooth replacement.