A full set of permanent adult teeth includes 32 teeth with 16 each on the top and bottom. However, because tooth loss is a common problem for adults of all ages, American adults between the ages of 20 and 64 have an average of 24.92 remaining teeth according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
Tooth loss presents more than a simple aesthetic problem of having a lopsided smile. The Minnesota Department of Health points out, “Teeth play an important role in speech, eating ability, facial appearance and quality of life.”
Having even a single missing tooth puts you at higher risk of gum disease and bone and tissue loss. Those problems cascade for patients with multiple missing teeth. When tooth loss affects what you’re able to eat, you may also develop nutritional deficiencies which can lead to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
People missing multiple teeth may also be less likely to participate in social activities out of self-consciousness of their appearance, have difficulty speaking or communicating and be more likely to isolate themselves from social interaction.
Dentures and implants offer people the chance to replace missing teeth, allowing them to renew their smiles, their health and their self-confidence.
Here are some important facts to know about each tooth replacement option.
Traditional dentures can offer complete tooth replacement for people missing all of their teeth on their top and/or bottom jaw and consist of what people might traditionally imagine when they think of dentures: a removable prosthetic tooth structure which can allow the wearer to chew, smile and communicate. Dental insurance companies may cover some or all of the cost of dentures.
Being fitted for dentures may take a series of appointments as your dentist makes impressions and takes measurements of your jaw. Your dentist or prosthodontist will create a model for you to try on before casting the final denture. Most patients don’t begin wearing dentures until eight to twelve weeks after tooth removal in order to give the jaw and gums time to heal. Dentures should also be removed each night to let the gums recover and to be thoroughly cleaned.
“New dentures may feel a little odd or loose for a few weeks until the muscles of the cheeks and tongue learn to keep them in place and you get comfortable inserting and removing them,” WebMD said. “Eating with new dentures will take a little practice and may be uncomfortable for some wearers for a few weeks.”
Denture wearers tend to report more issues with lower dentures than upper dentures as the tongue may push against lower dentures, loosening them or popping them out of place. Some wearers may find it helpful to use a small amount of denture adhesive to keep the dentures in place. The American College of Prosthodontists recommends using “no more than three or four pea-sized dabs of adhesive on each denture.”
If problems persist, it’s important to make an appointment with your dentist for an adjustment. As your gums and jawbone shrink over time, new dentures may be required for a good fit.
A middle ground between original dentures and a full set of implants is the snap-on denture option which offers better tooth stability than original dentures.
Snap-ons are dentures that rest on the gums but are held in place by either a mini or full-sized implant on each side. Wearers tend to experience less slippage when talking, laughing or chewing with snap-on dentures. However, the snap-ons should still be removed for cleaning and sleeping and may need adjusting over time as the gums and bone recede.
Some people choose snap-on dentures as a temporary fix while saving money for permanent implants while others prefer the ability to remove their prosthetic teeth at night and for cleaning.
A dental implant is a durable, natural-looking, long-term solution for people missing one or more teeth. Teeth can be replaced individually or with bridges that replace multiple teeth at once.
One of the major benefits of implants is the conservation of the jawbone that takes place because of the procedure.
“Once you lose a tooth, the underlying jawbone naturally begins to recede,” explains Stubbs Dental of Bountiful and Layton, Utah. “Unlike conventional restorations, dental implants stop this process from happening. They act just like natural tooth roots, delivering regenerative signals to your jawbone to keep it structurally strong and healthy.”
Your dentist can help you decide whether implants are the best tooth restoration option for you. Qualifying patients are those who are in good health, practice good oral hygiene, free from gum disease, and have sufficient bone density. During your consultation, your dentist will take scans and x-rays to determine whether your bones are healthy enough for implants and where the implant posts should be placed.
Receiving implants is generally a two-step process. Your dentist will offer you either /sedation-dentistry/sedation-dentistry for the duration of the procedure to keep you comfortable. For each implant, the dentist will drill a small hole in the bone and then place a metal post where the new tooth will be fastened. A single implant will take about one hour while multiple implants can take up to three hours. For convenience, your dentist can perform teeth extractions at the same time the implants are placed.
For the next four to six months, your dentist will monitor your post during a process called osseointegration, which occurs as the jawbone fuses with the implant posts. Once recovery is complete, your restoration teeth can be placed and you’ll be able to enjoy a full smile and full functionality once again.
Another option for those missing an entire arch of teeth is the All-on-X technique, which allows a dentist to secure a full, custom denture using limited posts, rather than the traditional single post for each tooth. This option also offers the benefit of being able to leave the office after the first visit with temporary restoration dentures which immediately complete your smile and allow you to begin eating normally. These initial teeth are replaced later with permanent custom teeth.