Produced by Rebecca Canvin, Bupa Health Information Team, January 2012.

This factsheet is for people who are having missing teeth replaced, or who would like information about it.

Replacing missing teeth can improve appearance and dental health. Treatment options include dentures, bridges and implants.

About replacing missing teeth
Treatment options
Dentures
Bridges
Dental implants

About replacing missing teeth

When teeth are missing, it can affect the way the rest of your teeth bite together. Your remaining teeth may tilt and drift into the gaps and food can get trapped in the spaces, increasing your risk of tooth decay and gum disease. When many teeth are missing, your facial muscles can become saggy, affecting your speech and appearance.

Replacement teeth are made to match the colour of your natural teeth as closely as possible.

Treatment options

If you have missing teeth, you may choose to do nothing and leave the space empty. Alternatively, you may want to have your missing teeth replaced. There are several different treatment options available.

  • Dentures (false teeth). These are removable plastic or metal frameworks carrying false teeth.
  • Bridges. These are false teeth fixed onto adjacent natural teeth.
  • Dental implants. These are metal 'pegs' placed in your jawbone. Dentures or bridges are clipped or screwed on top of dental implants.

The most appropriate treatment will depend on the number of teeth that are missing, where they are in your mouth and the condition of any remaining teeth. Your dentist will help you decide which option is best for you.

Availability and use of different treatments may vary from country to country. Ask your dentist for advice on your treatment options.
 

Dentures

Temporary dentures

After you have had teeth removed, it takes several months for your jawbone and gums to heal completely. During this time, your dentist may fit a temporary denture. This can even be fitted and worn the same day as your teeth are removed.

As your jaw heals, the temporary denture will become loose and may need adjusting. It can take up to six months for your jawbone and gums to become stable. Your dentist will then be able to fit your long-term denture or bridge.

Partial dentures

A partial denture can be used to replace one or more missing teeth. A partial denture is a framework (plate) with a number of false teeth on it.

There are different types of partial dentures, but they commonly include a metal and/or plastic plate with plastic or porcelain false teeth. Partial dentures often have metal clasps. Where possible, these clasps are hidden so that they can't be seen when you smile or talk. Alternatively, your dentist may recommend flexible (or soft) partial dentures. These adapt around the shape of your teeth and gums and can be used when it's difficult or impossible to fit a plastic or metal denture.

Full dentures

Full (or complete) dentures are needed when you have no teeth left in your upper or lower jaw. They are usually made of a plastic plate with plastic teeth.

Full upper dentures cover the roof of your mouth (palate). A very thin layer of saliva between your palate and the denture creates suction, which keeps it firmly in position. Your facial muscles and tongue also help to keep it in place.

Full lower dentures are often more difficult to keep in place because the floor of your mouth moves a lot, and the ridge where your teeth used to be shrinks with age.

However, good dentures should fit your mouth exactly so you shouldn't need to use denture adhesive cream (fixative).

Getting used to dentures

It's very important to have realistic expectations of dentures. Getting used to them will take time. They should help you to eat, speak and smile confidently, but even the best dentures won't feel the same as natural teeth.

Your mouth may feel a bit sore and uncomfortable to start with. Your dentures should start to feel a bit more secure as you get used to them. Your dentist will schedule a check-up appointment a week or two after fitting your new dentures. If you're having any problems, he or she can make the necessary adjustments to your dentures.

You may find some words difficult to pronounce at first, but this usually improves with time.

It takes a while to get used to eating with new dentures, so it's best to start with soft food. Try to use both sides of your mouth at the same time. This will help to keep your dentures in place.

Looking after your denture and mouth

Brush any remaining natural teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. If you have a full set of dentures, it's still important to clean your gums, tongue and the roof of your mouth with a soft brush.

Clean your dentures after every meal using a soft toothbrush and soap. It's a good idea to brush them over a bowl of water to prevent damaging your dentures if you drop them. Ensure that you clean all the surfaces of your dentures, including the areas that sit against your gums.

You should take your dentures out at night and leave them in a glass of water or denture cleaning solution. If you have metal clasps or a soft lining on your denture, you must ask your dentist for advice before using any denture cleaning solutions because these are more delicate.

Don't soak your dentures in any type of bleach or very hot water, as this can weaken them and change their appearance.

If your dentures are worn or don't fit properly they can cause irritation and discomfort. Ideally you should have your dentures remade before these problems arise. Even if you have no natural teeth left, you should still have regular check-ups with your dentist so that he or she can assess the fit of your dentures, and can detect any infections or other conditions at an early stage.

Bridges

If only one or two teeth are missing, your dentist may recommend a bridge. He or she will attach a false tooth (or teeth) to your natural teeth on either side or occasionally on only one side of the gap.

Bridges are made of porcelain and/or metal. There are many bridge designs. The natural teeth on either side of the space are specially prepared for the crowns to fit on top. These crowns are permanently attached to a false tooth in the centre.

 

 
Bridges are cemented in place, so you can't remove them for cleaning. To keep your natural teeth healthy, you should clean the gap under a bridge with a special dental floss. Ask your dentist or hygienist to show you how to floss under your bridge. On average, bridges last between five and 10 years.

Dental implants

A dental implant is a metal rod (titanium or titanium alloy) that is placed in your jawbone to hold a false tooth (or teeth) in place. Over several months, your jawbone fuses with the metal rod. Dentures or bridges can be screwed or clipped onto the implant.

Dentures and bridges that are supported by successful implants tend to be very secure. Dental implants last at least 10 years.

Implants can be expensive and require surgery. You need to have healthy gums, and if you smoke, your dentist may not recommend implants as it can affect the success of the treatment. Your dentist will tell you if this treatment is suitable for you.

This section contains answers to common questions about this topic. Questions have been suggested by health professionals, website feedback and requests via email.
 

 
Do missing teeth always need to be replaced?
Will having my teeth replaced hurt?
Everything tastes different. Is it my new upper denture?

Do missing teeth always need to be replaced?

 

Answer

No, missing teeth don’t always need to be replaced.

Explanation

Most people prefer to have missing teeth replaced – especially front teeth – to improve the appearance of their smile, or to make eating easier. But some people do not mind having a gap. Your dentist will discuss all the options with you.
 
A missing back tooth can affect the way your upper and lower teeth bite together, and the teeth either side may start to lean into the gap. If your dentist thinks this may happen, he or she may recommend that you have the tooth replaced, even if it’s not visible when you talk and smile.
 
If you have a number of back teeth missing on one side of your mouth, this can cause muscle and joint pain in your jaw because you will only use one side to chew. Replacing the missing teeth may help to treat these symptoms.

Further information

 

Sources

  • Chestnutt IG, Gibson J. Churchill’s Pocketbook of Clinical Dentistry. 3rd ed. Elsevier, 2007:303
  • Jaw problems and headaches. British Dental Health Foundation, www.dentalhealth.org.uk, accessed 9 October 2009

Will having my teeth replaced hurt?

 

Answer

No, you shouldn't experience any pain during any type of tooth replacement treatment.  However, you may feel some discomfort while you’re getting used to new dentures, and after any surgical procedures.

Explanation

Different types of tooth replacement involve different procedures.
 
Generally, having a denture fitted doesn’t cause any pain, but you may feel some discomfort for the first few days and weeks while you get used to it. Occasionally, a pressure point on a new denture can cause a painful ulcer. If this happens make an appointment to see your dentist.
 
If you're having a bridge fitted, the teeth on either side of the bridge may need to be prepared as crowns. Your dentist may give you a local anaesthetic injection to numb the area and may shape the teeth so that there is room for the new bridge. This means that your dentist will reduce the surfaces of these teeth by about 1 to 2mm using a drill. If you do experience any sensitivity afterwards, over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol should help with this.
 
If you have an implant placed then you will need a small operation. You will be given a local anaesthetic injection to numb the area so that you won't feel any pain during the operation. For a few days afterwards you may feel some discomfort, and should expect some bruising and minor swelling. Taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, should help with this. If you're in a lot of pain or have more swelling than expected then you should contact your dentist.
 
When taking any over-the-counter medicine, always read the information leaflet that comes with your medicine and ask your pharmacist for advice if you have any questions.

Further information

British Dental Health Foundation
0845 063 1188
www.dentalhealth.org.uk
 
Association of Dental Implantology UK
020 8487 5555
www.adi.org.uk
 

Sources

  • Mitchell DA, Mitchell L. Oxford Handbook of Clinical Dentistry. 4th ed. Oxford University Press 2007:380
  • Is it uncomfortable? Association of Dental Implantology UK. www.adi.org.uk, acessed 9 October 2009

 

Everything tastes different. Is it my new upper denture?

Answer

Taste buds are found on the surface of the tongue, so wearing a denture plate that covers your palate doesn’t physically block your taste buds. However, dentures can affect your sense of taste in other ways.

Explanation

Although having a denture doesn’t physically block your taste buds, dentures and other dental treatments (such as fillings) can change the taste in your mouth.
 
In addition, your sense of taste may change if you have an infection in your mouth such as candidiasis (often called “thrush” or denture-induced stomatitis). Candidiasis is very common, affecting up to six out of ten people who wear complete upper and lower dentures. It’s often painless, so you may not know that you have it, but it’s easily treated. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to attend your regular dental check-ups, even if you don’t have natural teeth.
 
Other things that commonly affect taste include having a dry mouth and taking certain medicines. It’s important that you go to your GP or dentist to identify the cause of your taste disturbance. Less common causes of taste disturbance include nutritional deficiencies, diabetes and thyroid problems.
 

Sources

  • Bromley SM. Smell and taste disorders: a primary care approach. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(2):427–36
  • Fixed and removable prosthodontics. CW Barclay, AD Walmsley. 2nd ed. Churchill Livingstone, 2001:7
  • Mitchell DA, Mitchell L. Oxford Handbook of Clinical Dentistry. 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 2007:366

Further information

Related topics

Caring for your teeth
Dental implants
Dental treatments - fillings and crowns
Having a tooth removed

Sources

  • Bridges and partial dentures. British Dental Health Foundation. www.dentalhealth.org, accessed 20 September 2011
  • Hemmings K, Griffiths B, Hobkirk J, et al. Improving occlusion and orofacial aesthetics: tooth repair and replacement. BMJ 2000; 321:438–41. doi:10.1136/bmj.321.7258.438
  • Dentures. British Dental Health Foundation. www.dentalhealth.org, accessed 20 September 2011
  • Dental implant information. Association of Dental Implantology UK. www.adi.org.uk, accessed 20 September 2011
  • Is it uncomfortable when the implants are placed? Association of Dental Implantology UK. www.adi.org.uk, accessed 20 September 2011
  • Bromley SM. Smell and taste disorders: a primary care approach. Am Fam Physician 2000; 61(2):427–36
  • Dental stomatitis (thrush). British Dental Health Foundation. www.dentalhealth.org, accessed 21 September 2011
  • Dry mouth. British Dental Association. www.bdasmile.org, accessed 21 September 2011

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