It is possible to lose a single tooth due to gum disease, injury, or decay and there are many patients whose chief complaint is a single missing tooth. Replacing the missing tooth is commonly done through a removable partial denture, a fixed partial denture (three unit bridge), or a dental implant. There are positives to each restoration. However, with a natural-looking and customized appearance, lasting durability and reliable function, dental implants are commonly considered the most successful.
Removable partial dentures consist of replacement teeth attached to gum-colored plastic bases, which are connected by metal framework. Removable partial dentures attach to the natural teeth with a series of metal clasps. However, most patients are dissatisfied with the bulk of the prosthesis and the unsightly clasps needed to hold it in place.
A fixed partial denture is commonly called a “bridge” because it essentially bridges the space between teeth with a prosthesis. Bridges are cemented to the teeth on either side of the missing tooth, commonly called the abutment teeth. Before the restoration can be placed, the abutment teeth must be ground down to support the cemented bridge.
Before dental implants were available, the fixed partial denture was considered the most effective way to replace a missing tooth. However, it has drawbacks such as jawbone deterioration and tooth decay in the adjacent teeth that have made it a less preferred option.
Dental implants are currently considered the best treatment option available for replacing a single missing tooth. Implants are designed to mimic the lost tooth and its root. Upon placement, the titanium of the implant begins to integrate with the surrounding bone in a process called osseointegration. The process of osseointegration creates a remarkably strong bond between the bone and the implant. This strong bond allows the implant to act as the natural tooth, supporting the bone tissue around it and restoring the ability to chew and speak normally.
Dental implants replace the missing tooth without sacrificing the health of the abutment teeth as with removable or fixed bridges. Implants are designed to last a lifetime, though the crown may require replacement after about ten years. Keeping a dental implant clean is similar to keeping the natural teeth clean; brushing and flossing daily and seeing the dentist at least twice a year is recommended. Implants are designed to look and feel like natural teeth and do not move when chewing food or talking.