If you’re missing one or more teeth, don’t fret. First of all, apparently the average middle-aged American is missing seven teeth, so you’re not alone. And nowadays, there are several options to replace those teeth, including holistic tooth replacement that restores not only the look but the biological functions of your teeth and jaw. Before we get started on what kinds of tooth replacement options there are, there’s a little spiel we really can’t skip over –
If you are missing a tooth or multiple teeth, the worst thing you can do is nothing. Even removable dentures are better than just living with a missing tooth. Empty tooth sockets left with nothing to stabilize them collapse over time, and the jaw bone underneath basically disintegrates because there’s nothing to stimulate it. Your jaw isn’t just a fixture that holds teeth – it’s a living structure with blood flow that keeps teeth healthy, and the teeth keep the jaw healthy in turn. So, if you’re missing a tooth near the back of your mouth and thinking, “Eh, no one can see it anyway; whatever.” – Nope. Just no. Go talk to your oral surgeon and see what your options are. Something is always better than nothing when it comes to tooth loss.
Okay – sermon over. Let’s look at your options for tooth replacement.
Methods of Tooth Replacement in Order of Permanence and Performance
Coming in at #1 is dental implants for sure. Dental implants are a completely holistic tooth replacement option, because the implant replaces the missing tooth’s root. This stabilizes the jaw and all the surrounding teeth. Dental implants last decades to a lifetime, and look and function like your natural teeth. Most people forget they even have them after healing time is over. You may need a bit of dental bone grafting to prepare your jaw for an implant, but that’s no big deal for a tooth replacement method with an over 95% success rate.
#2. Dental implant supported dentures and bridges are a decent alternative to dental implants for two reasons. 1) Dental implants are pretty expensive; if you need, like, seven teeth replaced, a bridge supported by one dental implant on each end is much more affordable than seven individual implants. 2) Because this type of bridges or partial dentures are supported by dental implants, you still get some of the stabilizing features of dental implants. It’s a good option for tooth replacement: it’s healthy and long-lasting, though they do need to be adjusted and redone every 10 years or so.
#3. Tooth-supported fixed bridges are a good option for people who are missing just one or two teeth next to each other, and don’t have jaws healthy enough to rebuild. They’re also much more affordable. The oral surgeon grinds down the tooth on either side of the gap and then creates a bridge of fake teeth with a crown at either end. The bridge then snaps on to the shaped teeth. They look totally natural, but you can remove them for proper cleaning and care. They will need replaced every so often, because your jaw and other teeth will continue to move over time.
#4. We’re going to combine the two most temporary solutions into one. Because, while they’re necessary and the only options for some patients, they are not an ideal tooth replacement solution by any means. Both these options fix the appearance of your teeth, but are not true or holistic tooth replacement by any means. Partial removable dentures are a set of teeth that basically clamp on to other teeth in order to replace the appearance of that empty socket. Removable full dentures are a set of fake teeth in “gums” that are shaped to fit your existing ridges to allow you to smile, talk and chew naturally. Both of these solutions have the shortest lifespan, and your dentist or oral surgeon will need to take new molds and make new versions as your jaw continues to move and degrade.
Tooth Replacement is Key to a Healthy Mouth
Like we said: don’t just do nothing. Any tooth replacement method is better than none – at the very least, it means you’ve got an oral surgeon constantly monitoring the health of your mouth and jaw, and what’s not great about that?
If you’re interested in what some of the tooth replacement options we discussed look like, we like this document from the ADA, which has some great graphics to give you a better visual idea of what all these tooth replacement options mean.