Options for Replacing Missing Teeth

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Gum disease, tooth decay, or trauma can cause you to lose one or more teeth. Missing teeth can affect your smile and your appearance. Their absence can also put more stress on your other teeth, which increases your risk for gum disease. It also can cause an uncomfortable bite. For all these reasons, replacing lost teeth is important.

There are three main options to talk about with your dentist: Bridges, dental implants, and dentures. Each has its pros and cons. The best choice for you depends on several factors. These include the number of teeth that need replacing, where in your mouth the replacement will go, and your oral and physical health.

Cost is another consideration. That can be hard to predict, however. Dental implants tend to be expensive, especially for many teeth. Also, your cost to replace teeth will go up if your dentist needs to remove additional teeth before making a denture, for instance. If you have dental insurance, find out what's covered. If need be, talk to your dentist about a payment plan for your out-of-pocket expenses.

Here's a closer look at your replacement options.

Bridges

A dental bridge is an option for replacing one or a few missing teeth. You need healthy teeth on both sides of the missing tooth, or teeth, for a bridge. Here are the basics:

  • A dental bridge can be metal, plastic, porcelain, or a combination.

  • Fitting a bridge requires a few visits.

  • Your dentist may need to place a covering, called a crown, over the teeth that will anchor the bridge.

  • The false tooth, or teeth, for the bridge will match your normal teeth.

  • Your dentist cements the bridge to the crowned teeth.

  • Once the bridge is in place, only your dentist should remove it.

  • Cleaning the bridge is an important part of daily oral health. Your dentist will teach you how to use a special brush and flossing instrument to get in, around and under the bridge.

Dental Implants

Dental implants are a newer option for long-term tooth replacement. A dental implant involves surgically implanting a post in the bone of your jaw. A crown goes over the end of each post to create the look of a natural tooth. Healthy gums and healthy bone in your jaw are essential for this option. Implants may not work for you if you have a chronic disease, like diabetes. Here are the basics:

  • Implants are made of a strong metal, primarily titanium.

  • For one tooth, you may have one post. For a bridge or a set of teeth, you may need multiple posts.

  • After surgery, the bone of your jaw grows around the post. The time between getting the implants and attaching the crown varies from person to person. It could be up to a few months. Your dentist will let you know what's safe to eat during this period.

  • Once the new teeth are in place, you'll need to avoid hard food that could damage the crowns.

  • You can treat implants like normal teeth—with care. You still need regular checkups and should brush and floss every day.

Dentures

Dentures are often called "false teeth." A partial denture replaces one or a few teeth. A full set replaces all your teeth. Dentures may be the best option if many teeth need replacing. This also might be the best choice if your gums, other teeth, or jaw cannot support other replacement options. Here are the basics:

  • The replacement teeth of dentures attach to a pink, usually plastic base that you slip into place. A partial denture may have metal clasps that attach to healthy teeth.

  • You may need to have some or all remaining teeth removed before you're fit for a denture.

  • Dentures can take time to get used to. You may need to return to your dentist for adjustments.

  • Chew evenly on both sides when you have dentures. Avoid very sticky or chewy foods. Don't bite down on very hard foods or candies.

  • Take out your dentures every day to clean them. Cleaning involves rinsing, brushing, and rinsing again.

  • Your dentist will recommend a denture cleaner and a special brush. Always clean your dentures over a bowl of water or folded towel to prevent breakage if you drop them.

  • While your dentures are out, brush your mouth, tongue, and any remaining teeth.

  • If you need a sealant to hold your dentures in place, ask your dentist to recommend one.

  • If you take out your dentures for any length of time or when sleeping, always place them in a soaking solution or in water.

  • Always call your dentist if your mouth becomes sore or your dentures don't fit right. Never force a partial denture into place.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 3
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Bridges. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/b/bridges

  2. Bridges and Partial Dentures. Oral Health Foundation. https://www.dentalhealth.org/tell-me-about/topic/cosmetic-dentistry/bridges-and-partial-dentures

  3. Dental Implants. American Academy of Periodontology. https://www.perio.org/consumer/dental-implants 

  4. Dentures. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/dentures

  5. Implants. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/i/implants

  6. Removable Partial Dentures. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/dentures-partial

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