As we age, we start to lose teeth here and there due to genetic predisposition, disease or poor hygiene. Around 120 million Americans are missing at least a single tooth, and 36 million have no teeth at all.1 In other words, this is a highly common problem affecting more than a third of the country.
Most people are familiar with dentures as a solution to toothless-ness, but maybe not for the best reasons. Oversized, ill-fitting dentures are a big concern for many people. You don’t want your dentures to slip out of your mouth and into your soup, after all!
Fortunately, dentures have come a long way in terms of fit and realism over the years, and they can even rival the appearance of your natural teeth. If dentures simply aren’t right for you, dental implants may provide a superior fit.
How Dentures Work
Dentures are acrylic false teeth meant to rest on top of your gums and replace your missing teeth. To make them, your dental prosthetist will take several molds of your mouth, make a cast once the proportions are all correct and continue adjusting your dentures as your jaw shifts with age.
There are two main types of dentures, and the type you use depends on how many teeth you have left.
These replace either the entire upper or lower set of teeth, or both. The upper set is bulkier, consisting of an upper palate portion that completely covers the roof of your mouth. The bottom set has much less coverage and is shaped like a U, covering only the gums and teeth so you can move your tongue freely while talking and eating.
Before inserting dentures, any remaining teeth will be pulled. Then, the dentures can be used right away (immediate dentures) or after a few months of healing (conventional dentures).
Removable partial dentures fit around existing teeth to replace smaller sections of missing teeth, fitting like a puzzle piece into your mouth. Unlike full dentures, they must work with and rely upon the surrounding teeth to function properly.
Some partial dentures have a metal wire that runs through them and visible hook-like clasps that wrap around existing teeth, allowing the dentures to fit snugly. A more expensive option is a partial denture with precision attachments. Your natural teeth will be given crowns to support the precision attachment, which looks like a trailer hitch. The dentures then snap into place on the attachment for a much more discreet and natural look.
Pros and Cons of Dentures
Before deciding if dentures are the right solution for you, you should consider the major benefits and drawbacks.
- Significantly cheaper upfront cost than implants
- Covered by insurance most of the time
- No need for surgery
- Fill out the mouth to prevent a “collapsed” look
- More frequent replacements required
- Less comfortable fit
- Potential difficulty eating and talking
- Special cleaning requirements, like brushing and overnight soaking
- Less realistic look than dental implants
- Reduced sense of taste when wearing upper dentures
- Greater chance of breaking dentures than implants
- Negative effect on the surrounding teeth
- Dietary restrictions necessary to avoid denture damage
- Risk of food getting trapped and causing oral health problems
- Removal needed at night so your gums can rest
How Dental Implants Work
Unlike dentures, which rest over the gums, dental implants mimic the structure of a natural tooth. To determine if you are a good candidate, your oral surgeon will first perform an X-ray or CT scan to assess your bone tissue. Then, over the course of one or multiple surgeries, your oral surgeon will create a hole in the jaw and insert a titanium implant into the jawbone. This implant looks like a screw and acts like an artificial tooth root. The metal will eventually become integrated with the jaw through the process of ossification. After the gums have healed, your crowns, bridges or dentures can be attached to the implant using specially designed abutments.
Single Tooth Implants
Like the name implies, these implants replace a single tooth. Each dental implant is topped off with an abutment, which connects to a crown – the portion that looks and acts like a tooth. Because the components are largely internal, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between a single tooth implant and a natural tooth.
Normal dental bridges require a dentist or prosthodontist to place crowns on adjacent natural teeth to support the fake tooth (pontic) in the middle. This requires removing enamel from perfectly healthy teeth, which is less than ideal.
Implant-supported bridges are an excellent alternative that allows patients to keep their enamel intact, doesn’t require crowns and provides more support for a sturdier smile. They work much the same as single-tooth implants, except instead of having a single implant, you’ll have at least two, and the bridge will be specially designed to attach to abutments that will be placed on top of the implants. Implant-supported bridges allow you to replace multiple adjacent teeth, or potentially all the teeth along your jaw!
Unlike the single-tooth implant, these porcelain teeth are connected by a metal framework so they operate as one big piece. Your oral surgeon may choose to use one implant for every single tooth, or they may space out the implants so a pontic or two rests in between each one. This will depend on the location of your nerves and the strength of your bone tissue.
Instead of supporting a single tooth or a bridge, these implants support a set of dentures that snap onto the abutments attached to the implants. In some cases, the denture snaps into a long metal bar that connects to all the implants, and in other cases, it snaps onto the ball-like attachments on each individual implant. People prefer implant-supported dentures to regular dentures because they are less prone to wiggling or clicking, especially for the lower jaw. The implants themselves also serve the same purpose as natural tooth roots and can help delay or stop jaw erosion.
Implant-supported dentures differ from bridges in that they are made of acrylic and still include false gums that slip over your real gums, whereas bridges are made of metal and porcelain and fit into your natural, healed gums. Implant-supported dentures also have the added benefit of being removable without the danger of slipping out during use.
Pros and Cons of Dental Implants
- Durability for up to 20 years and potentially a lifetime if properly cared for
- More natural look and feel
- Ability to eat a wider range of food
- Simple cleaning requirements of brushing and flossing
- Decreased rate of bone loss
- Potential reduced cost in the long run
- No need to put crowns on or file down natural teeth
- Steep upfront cost
- Lack of insurance coverage, as this procedure is often considered cosmetic
- Surgery needed, which may not be possible for patients with certain health conditions
- Healthy bone tissue, bone graft or bone distraction required
Get the Perfect Smile With Help From Greater Louisville Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Associates
Missing one or more teeth can reduce your self-confidence and make it difficult to eat and talk comfortably. In these instances, dental implants can change your entire life!
At Greater Louisville Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Associates, our team provides high-quality dental implants. Our implant solutions offer a more natural look and comfortable feel than conventional, immediate or partial dentures. Contact us today at (502) 459-8012 to make your first appointment so we can talk about your options!