Tooth Replacement Treatment
Few of us will make it through life with a full set of 32 teeth. By age 50, the average people has lost 12 permanent teeth to decay, gum disease, or injury. Losing teeth not only affects your smile, but can also alter your bite and weaken your jawbone as well.
There is little reason to let that happen. Advances in prosthetic dentistry have made it possible to fill the spaces with bridges and implants that are more functional and attractive than the teeth they have replaced. “Your mouth is the first organ of your digestive system. Missing teeth affect not just your appearance but your overall health,” says Dr. German Gallucci, executive director of the Harvard Dental Center. “We view dentistry as an integral part of comprehensive health care.”
An implant is usually the preferred option for replacing a single tooth. Placing an implant requires careful preparation to assess the amount of bone where the implant will be placed to make sure that there will be adequate support for the implanted tooth.
Your dentist may take CT scans of your teeth to see the amount and shape of bone available for the implant and take impressions of your teeth. If your jawbone is adequate, your dentist may use a computer to make a models of your jaw to simulate the implant before performing the actual procedure. Doing so can improve the accuracy of placement and minimize the amount of tissue disrupted during the implant procedure.
If your jawbone won’t support an implant, your dentist will augment it with bone or a bone-like material in a surgical procedure. You will need to wait several months for the bone to heal before receiving the implant.
The next step is to place a titanium screw—which serves as a replacement for a tooth root—in your jaw. The screw is fitted with a cap that looks like a small stud in your gum. During the next several weeks, your jawbone will grow around the screw to firmly anchor it in place, and your gum will heal.
In the final step, your dentist will make sure the implant is firmly in place. He or she will remove the screw cap and re-place it with a titanium abutment, or post. A porcelain crown that has been designed to match your surrounding teeth will be cemented or screwed onto the abutment.
A bridge—which consists of artificial teeth fused to a metal frame—is a good option for replacing several teeth. The frame is cemented to supports—either implants or healthy teeth that have been covered by crowns. The more teeth being replaced, the more natural teeth or implants are needed to give the bridge the necessary support.
The Maryland bridge is a variation in which the dentist attaches the bridge by gluing thin metal or ceramic strips to the backs of nearby teeth. It is used to replace a single tooth in the front of the mouth when there isn’t enough room for an implant.
Getting a bridge is a shorter process than getting an implant, but still requires several visits—one for imaging and impressions, another for preparing the supporting teeth for crowns and fitting a temporary bridge, and another for fitting the permanent bridge.
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