Teeth are the workhorse of our masticatory system and provide us with the ability to break down our food into digestible parts that help to provide us with proper nutrients and fuel for our bodies to keep going in life. However, through neglect, trauma, oral disease, or development, there may or may not come a time where we may need teeth removed and then we are left in a dilemma. What do we do with an area missing a tooth? There are several options that we typically go through with patients as far as replacement of missing teeth, including dental implants, bridges, or removable partials.
Dental implants are the best replacement for missing teeth currently available to patients. Essentially, a dental implant is a screw that is surgically implanted into the jawbone that mimics a tooth root. After bone heals around an implant and into the threads of the implant (a term called osseointegration), then a crown can be fitted onto the implant using an implant abutment which connects to the implant and provides the stability needed for a crown. Without going into details, a dental implant can only be placed where there is adequate bone (width & height!) in the area. I typically tell my patients that it's like mounting a TV on a wall, we are looking to put these things into a stud rather than a drywall!
Bridges are the next best option for replacement of missing teeth! After a tooth is removed and the gums have healed sufficiently, the two teeth in front and behind the teeth can be prepared to receive a bridge that can help replace the missing tooth area. Most commonly, bridges are recommended to patients who are not interested in performing any surgery and would like a fixed restoration that they don't need to take in and out.
Partials are the last treatment option, and is essentially a prosthesis which can go in and out of the mouth. The downside is that they are not as strong as a bridge or implant, and tend to accumulate plaque on the prosthesis themselves.
Every situation is different with regards to the best restoration for each area. Despite painting a rather black and white explanation, there are nuances to each option and the best one for you may be dependent on a number of factors. Please talk with your dentists if you have any missing teeth and discuss your options!