Dental implants versus alternatives | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Dental implants versus alternatives

Many people with missing or damaged teeth are often unsure about their replacement options. Sometimes people put off tooth replacement, not realizing that leaving a vacant space in their jaw may cause additional dental problems in the future.

This article will discuss the potential effects of ignoring missing teeth, as well as give a brief comparison between dental implants and other common options for tooth replacement.

What can happen if missing teeth are not replaced?

The most obvious concern for loss of teeth are impact on one's smile. So often we simply stop smiling, lose self-confidence, and even have anxiety in social situations. This can lead to a dramatic change in day-to-day enjoyment of life and have negative impacts on one's job and employment opportunities. For these reasons, we are often very motivated to replace front teeth as quickly as possible.

How about the back teeth, how important is it to replace these teeth?

Even though they may not be as visible as teeth in the front, it's equally important to address issues with missing and damaged posterior (back) teeth, as these are the teeth responsible for grinding and crushing food. Leaving gaps between posterior teeth can lead to problems with the surrounding teeth, gums, bone, muscles and joints. Some common problems created by missing back teeth include:

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Loss of the joy of eating.

Change in healthy diet and digestive problems.

Changes in facial appearance. Even though the back teeth aren't visible with smiling, without them it is possible to experience a loss of facial height which leads to a shrunken, shortened and more aged facial appearance.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) pain. If the jaw has to function differently with missing teeth it can put additional strain on the joint potentially leading to chronic pain.

Movement of adjacent teeth. Teeth adjacent to a space may often "tilt" into that space eventually becoming compromised and leading to loss of more teeth.

Excessive and/or uneven wear of remaining healthy teeth.

Loss of surrounding jaw bone. When teeth or implants are not in place the bone atrophies.

Tooth Replacement Options

For replacement of a single tooth or a few teeth, generally there are three options: partial dentures, bridges and dental implants. Each option has it's positives and negatives in regards to the health of the jaw and neighboring teeth, time and cost.

Partial Dentures

Partial dentures are fake teeth mounted on an acrylic and metal substructure that are generally removed each night. The advantage with partials are that they can generally be made quickly and are the cheapest option in the short term. The disadvantage of partials are damage to neighboring teeth that are used to support them, continued atrophy of bone, and loss of the appliance because they must be removed. For many people the disadvantages strongly outweigh the advantages over time and unfortunately often wind up costing more due to ongoing damage to teeth and the need to remake the partial dentures after loss or fracture.

Traditional Bridge

Before dental implants, a bridge was the only non-removable option for replacement of one or a few teeth. To make a bridge, neighboring teeth are first cut down so that crowns can be made. Then the crowns are connected by pontics, or fake teeth, in the middle. The biggest advantage to a bridge is time, typically the teeth can be prepared with a single dental visit and one to two weeks later, the bridge is ready to be cemented into place. The short-term costs are often comparable or slightly less than implants. The biggest problem with a bridge is the need to cut down often perfectly good neighboring teeth and the continued loss of bone in the area of the missing tooth. Over the long term, bridges often cost more due to need for replacement should the supporting teeth get cavities or fracture.

Dental Implants

A dental implant is a titanium post that replaces the root of a tooth. A crown can then be attached to the implant to replace the missing tooth. Advantages of dental implants are esthetics and function that are similar to natural teeth, maintenance of bone, and not requiring preparation of neighboring teeth. The disadvantage is time. It takes from three months to a year to restore dental implants. In comparing costs, several studies demonstrate the long-term costs are less and quality of life is improved in comparison to partial dentures and traditional bridges.

Most dental professionals agree that dental implants are the best solution in the majority of cases. As a free-standing restoration that generally does not negatively affect the surrounding teeth, dental implants can provide a lifetime of trouble-free use, and require the same care as the rest of your healthy, natural teeth.

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