In this day and age, many of us expect to keep all of our teeth for the course of our natural life. In some circumstances, though, a tooth is lost prematurely. At this time, the individual is faced with a decision – do I leave the gap where the tooth was, or do I want to return to having a full set of teeth in my mouth?
Generally the adjacent teeth, and the teeth above or below, start to drift to fill the space where the tooth used to sit. Over time, the movement of the surrounding teeth can change the way that the person bites. They may find it harder to chew on one side of their mouth as there is a space there. The overlying soft tissues (cheeks or lips) can sometimes sink in to a degree, as the tooth or teeth are not there to support them anymore. Some people adapt to the change and learn to live with the gap, others are interested to know how they can fill it!
A titanium “root” is placed into the jaw bone and fuses to it. A crown is attached to the metal root thus replacing the missing tooth in its entirety.
The teeth next to the missing ones are shaved back and used as anchor points to support a false tooth – just like the pylons of a bridge support the span. The bridge looks just like real teeth and is firmly bonded to the anchor teeth: it can only be removed by a dentist. If additional support is required, an implant is sometimes placed. In some cases, the adjacent teeth don’t need to be shaved back, and an adhesive material is used to support the bridge.
A denture also utilises the adjacent teeth as anchor points - little clasps hook onto them to support the false teeth. Dentures are not glued to the teeth and must be removed for cleaning daily.
Sometimes braces can be placed by an orthodontist to pull the teeth together and close the gap.
Every mouth is different, so not every option is suitable for everyone. A dentist needs to see your mouth and analyse it before they can advise you which treatment may be appropriate. Once a tooth is lost, it is better to replace it sooner rather than later, so if you’re thinking about it, get an opinion from your dentist and get back to chewing comfortably!