Tooth loss is more common than you think. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, adults in Australia have an average of 4.5 missing teeth each. People can lose teeth for all sorts of reasons, including tooth decay, smoking, trauma and accidents.
Because there are lots of tooth replacement options, with varying costs and potential outcomes, the decision of how best to replace missing teeth can be a tough one. We have outlined a number of those options below together with some of the important factors to consider.
However, it's important to know that this is general information only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are missing teeth and wondering where to start, book your complimentary, obligation-free appointment with Dr Peterson here to get advice tailored to you.
Why replace missing teeth?
People missing teeth understand how it can dramatically change your appearance and affect your self esteem. But people often aren't aware that missing teeth can also be significant to your oral health. It is important to replace missing teeth for a number of reasons:
To prevent bone loss and maintain your jaw bone density
Did you know that when astronauts go into space, their bone density can deteriorate to the levels of osteoporosis? This is because the bones of our bodies require pressure on them from our muscles and gravity for the body to keep them around!
When forces are taken away from the bone the body reduces the size of that bone as it believes it is no longer needed. This process is called remodelling.
One option of replacing teeth, dental implants, can stop that remodelling of the jawbone. With a dental implant and replacement tooth in place, the body requires the bone to support the chewing forces on the new tooth - ensuring the jawbone is not lost.
Losing teeth and bone over time can also cause your face to lose "fullness" and structure, which can accelerate the appearance of ageing. Maintaining your jawbone has the added benefit of not changing the shape of your face!
To increase life expectancy
Many studies have been done into the relationship between the loss of teeth and life expectancy. The result has been clear - there is a distinct correlation between the number of missing teeth you have and how many years you will live. The more natural teeth you lose and don't replace - the shorter your life - it is as simple as that.
Ultimately this is related to your ability to chew healthy, nutritious foods. Without teeth, people tend to eat soft foods and nutritionally poor diets which accelerates the ageing of the body and reduces the ability to fight disease.
Tooth replacement isn't just good for our dental health - it allows us to continue to get the nutrition we require and live a healthy full life.
To allow you to smile fully and with confidence.
People who are missing teeth know dramatically it can affect your confidence and self esteem. Our smile is how we communicate warmth, joy, openness, and friendliness.
Feeling unable to smile, talk and laugh freely and fully can be devastating in your relationships, career and life. Equally - replacing missing teeth can be just as life-changing. We love watching the transformation of our patients when they successfully replace teeth - knowing that they have improved their health and renewed their confidence.
So, what options are there for me to replace missing teeth?
What is a bridge?
There are two main types of dental bridges - fixed bridges and resin-retained bridges, which can be used to replace one missing tooth or multiple teeth. A dental bridge, generally speaking, attaches to the other teeth either side forming a "bridge" in between to replace the gap. Bridges can either be supported by natural teeth or by implants.
A tooth supported bridge can replace up to 2 missing teeth. An implant-supported bridge can support a number of teeth on either side, depending on the individual.
A fixed bridge is a dental bridge that is permanently affixed to the adjacent teeth. This requires the preparation of the other teeth on either side, meaning your dentist will remove some of the tooth enamel of those teeth, to allow a bridge of two crowns and a false tooth or false teeth in between to be bonded in place.
Resin-retained bridge (MARYLAND BRIDGE)
A resin-retained or "Maryland" bridge is a bridge which requires less preparation of the surrounding teeth, and a false tooth is bonded to surrounding teeth with resin to replace your missing tooth.
Your dentist may recommend a different sort of bridge depending on the tooth or teeth you have lost. Different bridge types are suited to different missing teeth.
What is a process for getting a bridge?
As noted above, the process for getting dental bridges depends on the type of bridge required. For a fixed bridge, preparation will be required of the natural teeth on either side which may involve more than one visit to the dentist.
If you are missing several teeth and looking to replace them with bridges, your dentist may recommend a single dental implant or multiple dental implants first.
For all bridges, your dentist will work with a master ceramist to create an artificial tooth which closely resembles the colour and shape of the remaining teeth on either side, so that when it is bonded in place, it will look and feel like your own teeth.
What is a denture?
Put simply, dentures are artificial teeth, typically made of plastic or resin, designed to look like natural teeth and fit over your gums.
Removable partial denture
Removable partial dentures are false teeth which replace a section of missing teeth and are designed to fit with your neighbouring teeth.
Removable full dentures
A full denture replaces all teeth with a denture - false teeth designed to look like your normal teeth and worn to restore function and confidence. However, they aren't designed to be worn permanently and can become uncomfortable over time.
Whilst removable dentures can provide you with replacement teeth which are an aesthetically pleasing replacement for lost teeth and also allow for a return of dental function, they will not assist in replacing jawbone as an implant would.
What is the process for getting dentures?
Fitting a denture usually takes several visits to the dentist, or dental prosthetist. Before creating your denture, your dentist or dental prosthetist will take a mould of your mouth to ensure that your denture fits you comfortably. Your removable dentures will then tailored custom to you to resemble your old teeth as closely as possible.
What is a dental implant?
A dental implant is a titanium screw which, during an implant procedure, is surgically placed into the jaw bone by a qualified implant dentist and allowed to fuse to that bone over the course of several months. Your dentist will then place a dental crown, tailored to look like a natural tooth, on top of the implant to fill the gap in your smile.
Missing teeth can be replaced by a single dental implant or multiple implants, depending on your oral health, the location of the missing tooth and other factors.
What is the process for getting dental implants?
When assessing your suitability for dental implants, your dentist will take a thorough medical history first. As a dental implant procedure is a surgical procedure, there are a number of health conditions that can influence your body's ability to heal after the procedure.
If you are a good candidate for an implant or implants, the dental implant treatment will typically involve several trips to the dentist. Sometimes, if you have lost substantial jaw bone, your dentist may recommend a bone graft procedure first to build up healthy bone to support the dental implants.
Your implant dentist will begin with a thorough preparation process, taking x-rays and other scans to ensure that your implant will be of the correct size and placed in the perfect position.
You will then need to come back for the implant to be surgically placed in your jawbone. This is typically done with a local anaesthetic and should not be painful, but you may also be given a sedative to help you relax.
After the surgery, your implant will need to be left to fuse to your bone over the course of several months. During this time, you will need to follow your dentist's instructions carefully to keep the implant site clean and maintain your oral health.
Finally, once the implant is successfully integrated into your bone, you will come back for a final visit to have a crown, fitted to fill the gap.
What is the right option for me?
There are a number of considerations when deciding how to replace missing teeth, and what is right for one patient won't be right for everyone. At Sydney Smile Doctor we take our time to get to know each patient's needs in relation to tooth replacement and will offer a treatment plan tailored to your personal situation. That may include considerations in relation to the following:
Broadly speaking, the cheapest tooth replacement option (especially when replacing many teeth) is a denture, and the most expensive is usually dental implants. But this is only when considering upfront costs.
When considering cost, it is also important to consider cost over time, and other potential costs that may crop up with your treatment of choice. For example, whilst dental implants cost the most upfront, with appropriate care, they can last the longest and reduce your need for further interventions over time.
None of the tooth replacement options listed above are guaranteed to last forever, however with correct maintenance and proper care, dental implants can last a lifetime.
You can expect to need to replace your dentures roughly every decade, while dental bridges last for 10-12 years before replacement on average.
Management and upkeep
In order to get the longest life from your tooth replacement choice, it's important to take good care of your oral health and regularly visit your dentist for dental care, cleans and check-ups. Good oral hygiene is also essential to protect your natural and replacement teeth.
Wearing dentures can be uncomfortable, so if you choose to get a denture you may need to rinse with salt water or use a dental adhesive, or get your dentures adjusted as required to fit your gum tissue properly.
Whilst generally, dental implants are recommended as the best and most wholistic teeth replacement choice for your oral health, not everyone is a good candidate for implants. Smoking, some health conditions, and advanced gum disease can all mean that you will have difficulty with the healing process and your implants may fail. If you want to get dental implants, your dentist may have suggestions for improving your oral and overall health before you begin.
Whether you have one missing tooth or are missing multiple teeth will also affect the recommendations your dental professional will make - as will the location of those teeth. A top tooth may be better suited to a bridge, and whereas something in the lower jaw might be better for implants in some cases, for example.
Dental implants at Sydney Smile Doctor
It is important to choose a qualified dentist with extra training in dental implants treatment. At Sydney Smile Doctor, our implant dentists take the time and care to tailor your treatment uniquely for you. Click here to make your first free appointment and discuss whether you are a good candidate for dental implants.
Friedman PK, Lamster IB. Tooth loss as a predictor of shortened longevity: exploring the hypothesis. Periodontol 2000. 2016 Oct;72(1):142-52. doi: 10.1111/prd.12128. PMID: 27501497.