There are plenty of options today for replacing missing teeth, including dental implants. But if the teeth have been missing for some time, complications can arise that limit your restorative options.
The most consequential possibility is bone loss. Bone has a life cycle: old cells dissolve (resorb), and are then replaced by new cells, stimulated to grow by the forces applied to the teeth during chewing. But the bone won't receive this stimulation if a tooth is missing — so growth slows down, which causes the bone volume to diminish with time.
Another complication can occur involving other teeth around the open space. These teeth will naturally move or “drift” out of their normal position into the missing tooth space. As a result we may not have enough room to place a prosthetic (false) tooth.
If either or both of these complications occur, we'll need to address them before attempting a restoration. Bone loss itself could eliminate dental implants as an option because they require a certain amount of supporting bone for correct placement. Bone loss could also make correcting misaligned teeth difficult if not impossible.
It might be possible, though, to regenerate lost bone with a bone graft. The graft is placed, sometimes along with growth stimulating substances, within the diminished bone area. It then serves as a scaffold upon which new bone can form.
If the bone becomes healthy again, we can then attempt to move any drifted teeth back to where they belong. Besides braces, there's another treatment option especially popular with adults: clear aligners. These are a series of removable, clear plastic trays that, like braces, exert gradual pressure on the teeth to move them. Patients wear each individual tray for about two weeks, and then switch to the next tray in the series to continue the process.
Unlike their traditional counterparts, clear aligners can be removed for cleaning or for special occasions. More importantly, they're much less noticeable than traditional braces.
Once any problems with bone health or bite have been addressed and corrected, you'll have a fuller range of options for replacing your missing teeth. With a little extra time and effort, you'll soon be able to regain a smile you'll be proud to display.
In real life he was a hard-charging basketball player through high school and college. In TV and the movies, he has gone head-to-head with serial killers, assorted bad guys… even mysterious paranormal forces. So would you believe that David Duchovny, who played Agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files and starred in countless other large and small-screen productions, lost his front teeth… in an elevator accident?
“I was running for the elevator at my high school when the door shut on my arm,” he explained. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the hospital. I had fainted, fallen on my face, and knocked out my two front teeth.” Looking at Duchovny now, you’d never know his front teeth weren’t natural. But that’s not “movie magic” — it’s the art and science of modern dentistry.
How do dentists go about replacing lost teeth with natural-looking prosthetics? Today, there are two widely used tooth replacement procedures: dental implants and bridgework. When a natural tooth can’t be saved — due to advanced decay, periodontal disease, or an accident like Duchovny’s — these methods offer good looking, fully functional replacements. So what’s the difference between the two? Essentially, it’s a matter of how the replacement teeth are supported.
With state-of-the-art dental implants, support for the replacement tooth (or teeth) comes from small titanium inserts, which are implanted directly into the bone of the jaw. In time these become fused with the bone itself, providing a solid anchorage. What’s more, they actually help prevent the bone loss that naturally occurs after tooth loss. The crowns — lifelike replacements for the visible part of the tooth — are securely attached to the implants via special connectors called abutments.
In traditional bridgework, the existing natural teeth on either side of a gap are used to support the replacement crowns that “bridge” the gap. Here’s how it works: A one-piece unit is custom-fabricated, consisting of prosthetic crowns to replace missing teeth, plus caps to cover the adjacent (abutment) teeth on each side. Those abutment teeth must be shaped so the caps can fit over them; this is done by carefully removing some of the outer tooth material. Then the whole bridge unit is securely cemented in place.
While both systems have been used successfully for decades, bridgework is now being gradually supplanted by implants. That’s because dental implants don’t have any negative impact on nearby healthy teeth, while bridgework requires that abutment teeth be shaped for crowns, and puts additional stresses on them. Dental implants also generally last far longer than bridges — the rest of your life, if given proper care. However, they are initially more expensive (though they may prove more economical in the long run), and not everyone is a candidate for the minor surgery they require.
Which method is best for you? Don’t try using paranormal powers to find out: Come in and talk to us. If you would like more information about tooth replacement, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Crowns & Bridgework,” and “Dental Implants.”
While tooth loss can occur at any age, replacing one in a younger patient requires a different approach than for someone older. It’s actually better to hold off on a permanent restoration like a dental implant if the person is still in their teens.
This is because a teenager’s jaws won’t finish developing until after nineteen or in their early twenties. An implant set in the jawbone before then could end up out of alignment, making it appear out of place — and it also may not function properly. A temporary replacement improves form and function for now and leaves the door open for a permanent solution later.
The two most common choices for teens are a removable partial denture (RPD) or a bonded fixed bridge. RPDs consist of a plastic gum-colored base with an attached prosthetic (false) tooth matching the missing tooth’s type, shape and jaw position. Most dentists recommend an acrylic base for teens for its durability (although they should still be careful biting into something hard).
The fixed bridge option is not similar to one used commonly with adult teeth, as the adult version requires permanent alteration of the teeth on either side of the missing tooth to support the bridge. The version for teens, known as a “bonded” or “Maryland bridge,” uses tiny tabs of dental material bonded to the back of the false tooth with the extended portion then bonded to the back of the adjacent supporting teeth.
While bonded bridges don’t permanently alter healthy teeth, they also can’t withstand the same level of biting forces as a traditional bridge used for adults. The big drawback is if the bonding breaks free a new bonded bridge will likely be necessary with additional cost for the replacement.
The bridge option generally costs more than an RPD, but buys the most time and is most comfortable before installing a permanent restoration. Depending on your teen’s age and your financial ability, you may find it the most ideal — though not every teen is a good candidate. That will depend on how their bite, teeth-grinding habits or the health of surrounding gums might impact the bridge’s stability and durability.
A complete dental exam, then, is the first step toward determining which options are feasible. From there we can discuss the best choice that matches your teen’s long-term health, as well as your finances.
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
Contrary to what you might think, a knocked out tooth doesn’t inevitably mean tooth loss. Time is of the essence — the shorter the interval between injury and replanting the tooth, the better the tooth’s long-term survival. The longer the interval, on the other hand, the less likely the tooth can survive beyond a few years. That phenomenon is due to the mouth’s natural mechanism for holding teeth in place.
The tooth root maintains its attachment with the jaw bone through an intermediary tissue known as the periodontal ligament. Tiny fibers from one side of the ligament securely attach to the tooth root, while similar fibers attach to the bone on the opposite side of the ligament. This maintains stability between the teeth and bone while still allowing incremental tooth movement in response to mouth changes like tooth wear.
While the ligament fibers will attempt to reattach to a replanted tooth’s root, the longer the tooth is out of the socket the less likely the fibers will fully reattach. An “ankylosis” may instead form, in which the root attaches directly to the jaw bone without the periodontal ligament. In this situation the body no longer “recognizes” the tooth and begins to treat it like a foreign substance. In all but the rarest cases, the tooth root will begin to resorb (dissolve); at some point (which varies from patient to patient) the attachment becomes too weak for the tooth to remain in place and is lost.
Ideally, a knocked out tooth should be replanted within 5 minutes of the injury (for step-by-step instructions, refer to The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries available on-line at www.deardoctor.com/dental-injuries). Even if you pass the 5-minute window, however, it’s still advisable to attempt replanting. With a subsequent root canal treatment (to remove dead tissue from the inner tooth pulp and seal it from infection), it’s possible the tooth can survive for at least a few years, plenty of time to plan for a dental implant or similar tooth replacement.
If you would like more information on treatment for a knocked out tooth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Knocked Out Tooth.”
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