A dental partial is a prosthetic that is placed in the mouth to replace missing teeth when some natural teeth remain, as an alternative to a full set of dentures. They are often made of plastic and metal, though ceramic teeth are available, for a more natural look.
If a few teeth are missing, partial dentures make speaking and chewing easier. Also, they help to retain the natural shape of the face and prevent cheeks from sinking, as well as prevent the complications associated with the remaining teeth shifting. Dental partials prevent problems that are a result of changes in teeth spacing too, such as earaches, headaches and TMJ (chronic pain in the jaw).
Dental partials are available as fixed or removable. The condition and health of the remaining teeth is considered when decided which partial would be best – the dentist will advise this decision. A fixed dental partial is also known as a bridge. It slots artificial teeth between two healthy teeth, which are crowned to support the artificial teeth and ‘bridge the gap’. Removable dental partials are made of a metal framework, with plastic teeth and gum areas, custom designed to match the existing teeth and gums. The removable dentures are held in place with metal clasps and are easily removed for cleaning.
Dental partials are custom made to match the existing teeth in shape, size and colour. Well maintained partials can last for up to 15 years, provided oral hygiene is maintained and regular checkups are attended. The custom made partial will look and function just like normal teeth.
Missing Teeth, to replace or not to replace: and if so what with?
Sometimes teeth are lost. If this happens we are faced with the question, do we need to fill the gap? And if so how?
Why replace missing teeth?
1. Appearance. If a front tooth is lost you may not be happy with a gap. This is a personal thing and if you are concerned with the appearance of a gap this should be discussed with your dentist.
2. Function. We need a certain amount of teeth to chew and speak. Research has shown as long as we have our incisor teeth (front teeth) and our premolar teeth (bicuspids) then we can function perfectly well. It is important to maintain these teeth.
3. Stabilise the bite. When a tooth is missing it can cause a chain reaction of problems. Surrounding teeth may shift into the gap. This will alter the way your teeth bite. In some cases this can lead to stress and discomfort to your jaw joint. It is much harder to clean teeth which have shifted, so harmful plaque can build up which can cause cavities and gum disease.
How can missing teeth be replaced?
1. Dentures: This appropriate when there are large numbers of missing teeth. They are especially good if after tooth loss the gum has shrunk back and there is not only tooth but gum to replace as well. They can be acrylic or metal. The acrylic ones are cheaper and better if all the teeth are missing or as a temporary solution. When designed well they can be comfortable and aesthetic. Metal ones have the metal hidden and are small, thinner and are generally considered more comfortable than the acrylic ones. They are best for multiple gaps.
2. Bridges: These can be either minimal preparation adhesive bridges or conventional bridges.
• Minimal Preparation Adhesive Bridges: In this case one or two teeth can be replaced. The false tooth has a metal wing attached to it which is glued to the inside surface of the neighbouring tooth. In this way the tooth is fixed and cannot be removed. This works best in teeth where there are no fillings. The advantage is there is a minimal amount of tooth preparation, sparing the teeth adjacent to the gap. However occasionally as a planned procedure the tooth opposing the metal wing needs minor adjustment to allow space to fit. The disadvantage is that they occasionally de-bond and need to be re-cemented.
• Conventional Bridges: In this case the tooth/ teeth neighbouring the gap are prepared to receive a cap (crown). A false tooth is attached to the cap. As the cap is cemented the gap is filled. This is ideal for heavily filled or broken teeth. However the teeth supporting the bridge need to be of sufficient quality to be used, poor quality teeth will lead to failure of the bridge. These restorations are fixed and can last for ten or more years.
3. Implants: These are special screws that can be set in the jawbone. These can either support single or multiple teeth. They have a very high success rate and are very natural looking. They also last a very long time. Implants are now considered the gold standard for the replacement of missing teeth.