What are flipper teeth?

Close-up of adult's smiling teeth.
Flippers keep you from having to walk around with a visible gap in your teeth.

Replacing a tooth that's been lost or pulled due to damage, decay or disease isn't an overnight process. When a tooth is removed, the gums and underlying bone usually need anywhere from six weeks to six months to heal before you can get a long-term fix, depending on the replacement method you choose [source: Mayo Clinic]. This is because tooth loss naturally causes a change in the shape of the gums and bone support structure in the jaw, which affects the fitting of permanent dentures and dental implants.

This is where flipper teeth come in. Also called "flippers," flipper teeth are lightweight, removable dentures that usually serve as a temporary tooth replacement option. Basically, they keep you from having to walk around with a visible gap in your teeth for several weeks. They also give you an improved ability to bite and chew food while you're waiting to get dentures or implants.


Using a temporary device like a flipper can have some further-reaching beneficial effects on your oral health, too. Wearing flippers can help diminish bone loss in the initial three to four months after you lose a tooth, which is the time when bone deterioration is most drastic [source: Goiato]. It also prevents any shifting of teeth around a gap [source: McKinney]. Additionally, flipper teeth help protect the wounds on the site of lost or extracted teeth and aid in healing [source: Goiato].

Flipper teeth are made mostly of acrylic resin, unlike cast-metal partial dentures, which are relatively inexpensive, long-term teeth replacements with foundations made of a metal and plastic mix. Similar to a retainer, flippers stay put in your mouth with the help of two steel wire clasps that wrap around two of your natural teeth. The false teeth used in flippers are made of plastic or porcelain, much like those used in more expensive, permanent replacement methods.

Many dental patients consider flipper teeth to be more comfortable and aesthetically appealing than cast partials that are made of metal, and they're also easier to get used to since they're not as rigid. Additionally, it takes less time to form and fit flippers than a cast metal partial due to the materials used. As a temporary fix, flippers are often the least expensive option for a person waiting for permanent dentures or implants.

When possible, dental professionals fabricate flippers before removing your teeth, so you can put them in as soon as your natural teeth are gone. Once fitted, a flipper can easily accommodate further tooth loss through a simple alteration of the original appliance.

Does the flexible functionality of flipper teeth make them a potential permanent tooth replacement solution? Read the next page to find out.


The Flip Side of Flippers

As mentioned on the previous page, a dental professional will pre-fit you for flippers before extracting your teeth if possible, so you can put them in right after the procedure. Initially, you'll be adjusting to the flipper teeth, so you should eat a soft diet for the first week you have them. Keep them in your mouth for the first 24 hours after tooth removal to aid healing, then take them out, clean them and immediately put them back in. After that, you can remove your flipper teeth nightly for cleaning.

Flippers are intended to be temporary, but some people wear them indefinitely. Doing so requires regular care and plenty of caution, though, since they are not known for being sturdy. Proper flipper teeth upkeep involves removing them at night, scrubbing them with water or gentle toothpaste, and then soaking them in water overnight -- preferably with a denture tablet that provides some antifungal and antibacterial action. You can put them back in your mouth when you wake up in the morning.


Flipper teeth have some downsides to them, too. One reason they're usually not used for long-term tooth replacement is that their acrylic bands, which form the support structures that hold the false teeth, break easily. Manufacturers have started fabricating flipper teeth with thicker acrylic to compensate for the brittleness, but that makes the devices thicker overall and thus, less comfortable to wear -- especially early on when you're adjusting to them.

Also, since your gums and bone naturally recede to some degree after tooth loss, flipper teeth can become ill-fitting, and consequently quite uncomfortable. Over time, they'll also be more difficult to insert. When that happens, you'll need to have them realigned or get a new set of flipper teeth, and this will be a common occurrence if you use flipper teeth for a long period of time.

If you're worried about your appearance, another disadvantage of flipper teeth is that the metal clips or wires used to adhere the apparatus to your natural teeth may be visible to others when you eat, smile or talk. Also, since the artificial teeth used in flippers aren't implanted or otherwise affixed to your gums, they might feel unstable in your mouth.

So, flippers may not be the best long-term option for replacing lost teeth, but if you're looking for a temporary stopgap, they could be just what you need. Talk to your dentist about tooth replacement options that are best suited to your situation, and check out the next page for lots more information on flipper teeth.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Goiato, Marcelo Coelho, D.D.S. "Temporary Flexible Immediately Removable Partial Denture: A Case Report." Dentistry Today. Mar. 1, 2008. http://www.dentistrytoday.com/prosthodontics/prosthetics/1721
  • Harris, Brown, III, D.D.S. "Post-operative Immediate Denture Partial Instructions." (Oct. 15, 2011) http://www.highdesertoralsurgery.com/PostOpDentures.html
  • Mayo Clinic. "Dental Implant Surgery." June 26, 2010. (Oct. 22, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dental-implant-surgery/MY00084
  • McKinney, Timothy, D.D.S. "Replacing lost teeth." (Oct. 15, 2011) http://www.drtimothymckinney.com/lost_teeth.htm
  • New England Dental Center. "Services." (Oct. 15, 2011) http://www.thenewenglanddentalcenter.com/services.html
  • Polident. "Frequently asked questions about Polident denture cleaner." (Oct. 15, 2011) http://www.mypolicare.com/Polident_FAQ.aspx
  • Spiller, Martin S., D.M.D. "Partial Dentures." 2000. (Oct. 15, 2011) http://www.doctorspiller.com/partial_dentures.htm