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What are the different types of dentures?

The kind of dentures you choose depends a lot on what degree of tooth loss you have.
The kind of dentures you choose depends a lot on what degree of tooth loss you have.
©iStockphoto.com/williv

False teeth were being fitted into the mouths of Etruscans, who lived in what is now central Italy, as early as 700 B.C. [source: James]. In many cases, the procedure for this involved banding loose teeth together using multi-ringed forms made of gold, with each empty ring fitting around an existing tooth. In spots where a tooth was missing, the band would contain a fake tooth (often another person's or animal's tooth) held in place by small pins [sources: Dunn, James].

But dentures -- removable replacements for missing teeth -- have come a long way since 700 B.C. Even compared to the dentures available to previous generations over the last century, which would frequently pop out of the mouth or fit poorly, today's dentures are often mistaken for the real McCoy. For people who have lost teeth through accidents or periodontal disease, dentures and dental implants now look so good that wearing them may even result in a more beautiful smile.

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Fake teeth used in dentures are now made of either porcelain or plastic, and the base is usually plastic or acrylic. There are many different types of dentures available, and the kind you choose likely will depend on what degree of tooth loss you have (full or partial), as well as the amount of usable tissue that remains in your mouth once your teeth are gone.

Partial dentures make sense when some original teeth remain in the mouth following tooth loss. Those existing teeth increase the stability of the denture, which may be fixed (permanent) or precision (removable). In turn, the presence of the denture keeps other teeth from shifting around, as they would if the missing ones weren't replaced.

A fixed bridge, or fixed partial denture, uses crowns on the teeth located on either side of a gap to affix a fake tooth, which is cemented into place. These bridges can replace one or more teeth.

If all your teeth were missing, however, you'd probably consider complete dentures. There are two types of complete dentures: immediate and conventional. Following tooth removal but before the more permanent conventional dentures are ready, you'd need immediate dentures, which you'd wear during the two to three months required for healing following full tooth loss. The reason for this wait is that, while healing, the gums and jaws shrink, changing the shape of your mouth. In fact, even the immediate dentures will need readjustment during the wait until you're fitted for permanent dentures.

While removable dentures were once the primary way to replace missing teeth, more and more people are using dental implants instead. Find out what that's all about on the next page.

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Though dentures have improved a lot over the years, the biggest advancement in replacing teeth has been the use of dental implants. Dental implants are artificial tooth roots permanently inserted into your jaw. These fake roots can hold either a single replacement tooth or an entire row of them, and the result looks and feels very similar to real teeth.

With proper cleaning and checkups by a dentist, your dental implants could last a lifetime. (And that's a good thing, since they usually cost more than dentures.) But not all implants are created equal -- different types need to be cared for in different ways, so it's important to know what you're dealing with.

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Fixed implant dentures, for example, are anchored by titanium posts inserted into the jaw. The denture is then screwed into the implant. This gives the denture wearer more chomping power than would be possible with non-implanted dentures. However, these dentures can only be removed by the dentist, not the wearer.

On the other hand, miniature titanium implants consist of four small rods implanted in the jaw about 5 millimeters apart. At the top of each rod is a small metal housing. The denture snaps onto these four housings. The patient can remove and clean this type of denture with no assistance from a dentist.

With an overdenture, the natural root of the tooth is preserved to prevent or delay surrounding bone loss that occurs when the entire tooth is removed. The dental professional then bonds metal attachments to the root of the tooth and snaps an overdenture into them. The remaining roots actually provide increased sensation to the wearer of the overdenture, so that the dentures feel more similar to natural teeth.

Your dentist will help you decide which type of dentures are right for you. In the meantime, check out the next page for lots more information on dentures.

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Sources

  • Australian Dental Care Centre. "Denture History." (Sept. 25, 2011) http://www.accentu8dental.com.au/page13.php
  • BBC. "Waterloo Teeth: A History of Dentures." http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A5103271
  • Dunn, Charles W. "Artificial Dentistry Among the Etruscans." 1894. (Sept. 25, 2011) http://www.archive.org/stream/artificialdentis00dunn/artificialdentis00dunn_djvu.txt
  • Forest View Dental. "Conventional Over-Denture." (Sept. 25, 2011) www.forestviewdental.com/fvd_education/overdenture.pdf
  • James, Peter; Thorpe, I. J.; Thorpe, Nick. Ancient inventions. Random House Digital, Inc., 1995. ISBN 0345401026, 9780345401021. http://books.google.com/books?id=VmJLd3sSYecC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
  • MedlinePlus. "Dentures." (Sept. 25, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/dentures.html
  • WebMD. "Dental Health and Bridges." Feb. 8, 2009. (Sept. 25, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/dental-health-bridges

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