Full or partial tooth loss, if left untreated, doesn't just affect a person's self-image — it can also increase the risk of developing nutritional problems and other systemic health disorders. Fortunately, there's a reliable and time-tested method for treating this condition: full or partial dentures.
Dentures are just one option for replacing missing teeth; some of the others include fixed bridgework and dental implants. Each method has its particular pluses and minuses, which should be carefully considered. There are also several varieties of dentures available to address specific issues, from partial dentures to implant-supported overdentures. The best option for you will depend on your individual situation.
How Do Removable Dentures Work?
Full or partial dentures consist of a gum-colored base made of plastic resin, which fits over the remaining alveolar (bone) ridge that formerly held the teeth. The prosthetic teeth projecting from the base are designed to look and function just like your natural teeth. Dentures are held in place primarily by the suctioning effect of their close fit against the alveolar ridges — that's why it's so important that they are fitted properly. The upper denture also gets extra support from the large surface area of the roof of the mouth (palate), which generally makes it extremely stable.
At first, wearing dentures may require some getting used to in terms of talking and eating, as the dentures become “balanced” in the space formerly occupied by the teeth. But over time, the muscles, nerves and ligaments of the mouth learn to work in new ways, which allows these functions to occur normally. Dentures also help support the facial skeleton and the soft tissues of the lips and cheeks, which can help create a more youthful appearance.
TYPES OF DENTURES
Immediate Dentures: These are usually a temporary means of helping you transition to successful denture wearing. Because of the muscular readjustment required, as well as the natural shrinkage of gums, the dentures which are placed immediately after tooth extraction won't fit as well as permanent dentures made when the healing is complete. They do, however, provide you with new teeth right away, and give you time to adjust.
Conventional Full Dentures: After a period of time, permanent dentures that conform to your mouth with near-perfect accuracy can be fabricated. These are carefully crafted to look as much like your own natural teeth as possible, and are able to function properly in your mouth for a long time.
Implant-Supported Overdentures: To increase the stability of a lower or upper denture, it's possible for it to be securely anchored using two or more dental implants. The upper jaw requires more implants (generally three or more) than the lower jaw due to a lesser bone density. Many people find this option offers a great balance of comfort, functionality and value.
TYPES OF PARTIAL DENTURES
Transitional Partial Dentures: These relatively inexpensive removable plastic dentures serve as a temporary tooth replacement and space maintainer as you wait for your mouth to heal from tooth extraction, for example. Once the healing process is complete, dental implants can be placed.
Removable Partial Dentures (RPDs): Usually made of cast vitallium, these well-constructed, metal-based removable partial dentures are much lighter and less obtrusive than those made of plastic. They are a little more expensive than plastic dentures but will fit better. They are, however, much less expensive than implants or fixed bridgework.
HOW DENTURES ARE MADE AND FITTED
Making quality dentures is a blend of science and art. First, an accurate impression (mold) is made of the alveolar ridges on the top and bottom of your mouth. The base of the denture is made from this mold in a dental laboratory. Working together, the dentist and lab technician choose from among many different sizes and shapes of prosthetic teeth to re-create a natural-looking smile. When everyone is satisfied with the result, the temporary dentures are made in permanent form.
To enable normal speech and eating, it's crucial to balance your bite. This means that the upper and lower dentures come together and properly stabilize each other. The form and function of the dentures are carefully checked to ensure that they are working and fitting properly.
What to Expect After You Get Dentures
If you've recently lost your teeth and received an immediate denture, it's normal to find some tissue shrinkage and bone loss occurring. Therefore, in several months you may find that your immediate dentures no longer fit well. You will have two choices at this point: You can have your immediate (temporary) dentures re-lined. This means that material is added under the denture's base to better conform to the new contours of your alveolar ridge. A better option is to move to a set of conventional full dentures, which will last longer and fit better. With proper care, dentures offer a functional, aesthetic and economical solution to the problem of tooth loss.
If you have never had a cavity, congratulations! If you have had one, you are not alone. About 78% of us have had at least one cavity by the time we reach age 17, according to a 2000 report by the U.S. Surgeon General. Fortunately there's a time-tested treatment for cavities: the dental filling.
Fillings do just what the name implies — seal a small hole in your tooth, i.e., a cavity, caused by decay. This prevents the decay (a bacteria-induced infection) from spreading further into your tooth and, if untreated, continue on to the sensitive inner pulp (nerve) tissue located in the root canal. Should that happen, you would need root canal treatment.
There are a variety of materials used to fill teeth these days, but the process of filling a tooth is similar regardless. The first step is a clinical exam of the tooth with x-rays, to determine the extent of the decay. Then the decayed area of the tooth is removed, usually with a handheld instrument such as a dental drill. Of course, your tooth will be anesthetized first, so you won't feel any discomfort. If you normally feel nervous about receiving numbing injections, it's possible that taking an anti-anxiety medication or using nitrous oxide can help you feel more relaxed. After removing the decay, the remaining tooth structure is roughened or “etched” with a mildly acidic solution; then translucent cement is applied to bond the tooth and the filling material together.
Types of Fillings
There are two broad categories of dental fillings: metal fillings and tooth-colored fillings. Each may offer particular advantages and disadvantages in certain situations.
Amalgam — The classic “silver” filling in use for more than a century, dental amalgam is actually an alloy made up of mercury, silver, tin, and copper. The mercury combines with the other metals in the amalgam to make it stable and safe. These fillings are strong and inexpensive, but also quite noticeable. They also require relatively more tooth preparation (drilling) than other types.
Cast Gold — Among the most expensive restorative dental materials, cast gold combines gold with other metals for a very strong, long-lasting filling. It is also highly noticeable, which can be considered a plus or minus.
TOOTH COLORED FILLINGS
Composite — A popular choice for those who don't want their fillings to show, composite is a mixture of plastic and glass, which actually bonds to the rest of the tooth. Composites are more expensive than amalgam fillings, and the newer materials can hold up almost as long. Less drilling of the tooth is necessary when placing composite as compared to amalgam.
Porcelain — These high-tech dental ceramics are strong, lifelike, and don't stain as composites can. They are sometimes more expensive than composites because they may require the use of a dental laboratory or specialized computer-generated technology. While considered the most aesthetic filling, they can also, because of their relatively high glass content, be brittle.
Glass Ionomer — Made of acrylic and glass powders, these inexpensive, translucent fillings have the advantages of blending in pretty well with natural tooth color and releasing small amounts of fluoride to help prevent decay. They generally don't last as long as other restorative materials.
What to Expect After Getting a Filling
The numbness caused by your local anesthesia should wear off within a couple of hours. Until then, it's best to avoid drinking hot or cold liquids, and eating on the side of your mouth with the new filling. Some sensitivity to hot and cold is normal in the first couple of weeks after getting a tooth filled. If it persists beyond that, or you have any actual pain when biting, it could signal that an adjustment to your filling needs to be made. Continue to brush and floss as normal every day, and visit the dental office at least twice per year for your regular checkups and cleanings. And remember, tooth decay is a very preventable disease; with good oral hygiene and professional care, you can make your most recent cavity your last!
The most likely location for a cavity to develop in your child's mouth is on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Run your tongue over this area in your mouth, and you will feel the reason why: These surfaces are not smooth, as other areas of your teeth are. Instead, they are filled with tiny grooves referred to as “pits and fissures,” which trap bacteria and food particles. The bristles on a toothbrush can't always reach all the way into these dark, moist little crevices. This creates the perfect conditions for tooth decay.
What's more, a child's newly erupted permanent teeth are not as resistant to decay as adult teeth are. The hard enamel coating that protects the teeth changes as it ages to become stronger. Fluoride, which is found in toothpaste and some drinking water — and in treatments provided at the dental office — can strengthen enamel, but, again, it's hard to get fluoride into those pits and fissures on a regular basis. Fortunately, there is a good solution to this problem: dental sealants.
Dental sealants are invisible plastic resin coatings that smooth out the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, making them resistant to decay. A sealed tooth is far less likely to develop a cavity, require more expensive dental treatment later on, or, most importantly, cause your child pain.
HOW SEALANTS ARE PLACED
You can think of a sealant as a mini plastic filling, though please reassure your child that it doesn't “count” as having a cavity filled. Because tooth enamel does not contain any nerves, placing a sealant is painless and does not routinely require numbing shots. First, the tooth or teeth to be sealed are examined, and if any minimal decay is found, it will be gently removed. The tooth will then be cleaned and dried. Then a solution that will slightly roughen or “etch” the surface is applied, to make the sealing material adhere better. The tooth is then rinsed and dried again. The sealant is then painted on the tooth in liquid form and hardens in about a minute, sometimes with the help of a special curing light. That's all there is to it!
A note about BPA: A 2012 study that received wide press coverage raised concerns that trace amounts of the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) found in some (but not all) dental resins might contribute to behavioral problems in children. The study authors noted that while they had found an association, they had not actually proven that BPA in dental sealants causes these problems. In fact, BPA is far more prevalent in food and beverage packaging than in dental restorative materials. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association have since reaffirmed their support for the use of sealants.
TAKING CARE OF SEALANTS
Sealed teeth require the same conscientious dental hygiene as unsealed teeth. Your child should continue to brush and floss his or her teeth daily and have regular professional cleanings. Checking for wear and tear on the sealants is important, though they should last for up to 10 years. During this time, your child will benefit from a preventive treatment proven to reduce decay by more than 70 percent.