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Your appearance is one reason. Another is that the gap left by a missing tooth can mean more strain is put on the teeth at either side. A gap can also mean your ‘bite' is affected, because the teeth next to the space can lean into the gap and change the way the upper and lower teeth bite together. This can then lead to food getting packed into the gap, which causes tooth decay and gum disease.
This depends on the number of teeth missing and on where they are in your mouth. The condition of the teeth you still have also affects the decision.
There are three main ways to replace missing teeth. The first is with a removable false tooth (or teeth) - called a partial denture. The second is with a fixed bridge. A bridge is usually used when there are fewer teeth to replace, or when the missing teeth are only on one side of the mouth. The third way is by the use of dental ‘implants'. This is where an artificial root is placed into the bone of the jaw and a crown or bridge placed on top of this. See our leaflet ‘Tell me about Dental implants'.
This is a plate with one or more false teeth on it. It may be all plastic or a mixture of metal and plastic. Both types may have clips (clasps) to help keep the denture in place in your mouth. Depending on where they are, some of these clips may show when you smile or open your mouth.
Plastic partial dentures are less expensive to make. But unless they are designed very carefully they can damage the teeth they fit against.
Metal partial dentures are usually made from an alloy of cobalt and chromium, and they are much stronger. They are lighter to wear and can be supported by the remaining teeth. Although the base is metal, they have gum-coloured plastic and natural-looking teeth fixed to them. They are more expensive than plastic ones.
Be guided by your dentist. They will know the condition of your remaining teeth. In most cases a metal-based partial denture gives the best result.
It can take up to 6 months for your gums to heal properly after an extraction. This means that you may need to have a temporary denture before the bridge is fitted.
The general rule is: brush, soak and brush again. Always clean your denture over a bowl of water or a folded towel in case you drop it. Brush your denture before soaking them, to help remove any bits of food. Using an effervescent (fizzy) denture cleaner will help remove stubborn stains and leave your denture feeling fresher - always follow the manufacturer's instructions. Then brush the denture again, as you would your own teeth, being careful not to scrub too hard as this may cause grooves in the surface.
Most dentists advise using toothpaste and a small- to medium-headed toothbrush. Make sure you clean all the surfaces of the denture, including the surface which fits against your gums. This is especially important if you use any kind of denture fixative.
If you notice a build-up of stains or scale, have your denture cleaned by your dental team.
Your dental team may recommend taking out your dentures at night to give your mouth a chance to rest. If you do this, it is important to leave it in water to prevent any warping or cracking.
The main alternatives are a fixed bridge or a dental implant. A dental bridge is made by putting crowns on the teeth at either side of the gap, and then joining these two crowns together by placing a false tooth in the space. This is all made in the laboratory and then the pieces are cemented into place with special adhesives. The bridge can't be removed.
Another option is an adhesive bridge. This has ‘wings' that are bonded to the back of the supporting teeth, with very little drilling needed.
You can have a bridge only if you have enough strong teeth with good bone support. Your dental team will help you decide which is the best way of replacing missing teeth.
Bridges are usually made of porcelain bonded to precious metal. Sometimes other non-precious metals are used in the base for strength. There are also new bridges made entirely of a special type of strong porcelain.
The cost will vary depending on the size and type of bridge you need. Always get a written estimate and treatment plan before starting any dental treatment. Although a bridge may seem expensive it should last many years.
You need to clean your bridge every day, to prevent problems such as bad breath and gum disease. You also have to clean under the false tooth every day. Your dentist or hygienist will show you how to use a bridge needle or special floss, as a normal toothbrush cannot reach.
There are other methods, such as using a combination of crowns and partial dentures that can keep the retaining clips out of sight. These are quite specialised dentures, so you should ask your dental team about them.
Yes, by having implants. The success of this technique means you may be able to replace missing teeth without crowning other teeth. For more information see our ‘Tell me about' leaflet Implants.
Remember that it is as important to care for your remaining teeth as it is to replace the missing ones.