Besides your appearance, the gap left by a missing tooth can mean more strain is put on the teeth at either side. A gap can also mean your ‘bite’ is affected, because the teeth next to the space can lean into the gap and change the way the upper and lower teeth bite together. This can then lead to food getting packed into the gap, which causes tooth decay and gum disease.
This depends on the number of teeth missing and on where they are in your mouth. The condition of the teeth you still have also affects the decision.
There are three main ways to replace missing teeth.
This is a plate with one or more false teeth on it. It has clasps to help keep it in place in your mouth.
Bridges are ideal for people who don’t like dentures and only have a few teeth missing. Bridges are usually made by putting a crown on the teeth on either side of the gap and attaching a false tooth in the middle. The bridge is made in the laboratory and then the pieces are cemented into place with special adhesives. The bridge can’t be removed.
Implants are an alternative to dentures and bridges, but they are more expensive. Implants are titanium rods which are surgically placed into the jawbone and act as anchors to fasten on dentures or crowns.
Cosmetic treatments include veneers, crowns, bridges, tooth-colored fillings, implants and tooth whitening. Cosmetic dentistry, or ‘aesthetic dentistry’, as a way of improving their smile and appearance. The treatments can be used to straighten, lighten, reshape and repair teeth.
Veneers are thin slices of porcelain. These are precisely made to fit over the visible surface of your front teeth, like a false fingernail fits over a nail. Veneers can treat discolored or unsightly teeth, closing gaps between front teeth, or repairing chips and cracks. Some of the shiny, outer enamel surface of the tooth may be removed, to make sure that the veneer can be bonded permanently in place later. The amount of enamel removed is tiny and will be the same as the thickness of the veneer to be fitted, so that the tooth stays the same size.
White fillings are now a popular alternative to metallic amalgam fillings used for more than a century. The new dental materials make it much easier to find a perfect match for the shade of a tooth.
A crown is an artificial restoration that fits over the remaining part of a prepared tooth, making it strong and giving it the shape of a natural tooth. A crown is sometimes known as a ‘cap’.
The usual method for fitting a crown involves shaping the tooth under local anesthetic and then taking an impression. The impression is then sent to the laboratory along with the details of the shade to be used, and the technician makes the crown. The affected tooth is protected with a temporary crown. This is easily removed just before fitting the permanent one. In most cases, the temporary crown is in place for about two weeks.
Yes. Tooth whitening can be a highly effective way of lightening the natural color of your teeth without removing any of the tooth surfaces. It cannot make a complete color change, but it should lighten the existing shade.
Professional bleaching is the most common form of tooth whitening. Your dental team will apply the whitening agent to your teeth, using a specially made tray which fits into your mouth like a mouth guard. The ‘active ingredient’ in the product is usually hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. As the active ingredient is broken down, oxygen gets into the enamel on the teeth and the tooth color is made lighter.
Teeth can be straightened with orthodontics or braces. Teenagers and adults have treatment to straighten their crooked teeth or to improve their appearance. The treatment can take longer in adults. Today there are clear or plastic braces, which are barely noticeable.
There are also now ‘invisible’ braces. The dentist will make you a series of clear plastic shields (like a mouth guard) which need to be worn all day and gradually move your teeth into a new position.
Early tooth decay does not tend to show many physical signs. Sometimes the tooth looks healthy, but your dental team will be able to see from an x-ray whether you have any decay under the enamel, any possible infections in the root, or any bone loss around the tooth.
X-rays can help the dental team to see in between your teeth or under the edge of your fillings. Finding and treating dental problems at an early stage can save both time and money.
X-rays can show decay that may not be seen directly in the mouth: for example, under a filling, or between the teeth. They can show whether you have an infection in the root of your tooth and how severe the infection is.
In children an x-ray can show any teeth that haven’t come through yet, and show the dental team whether there is enough space for the teeth to come through. In adults, it can show any impacted wisdom teeth that may need to be removed, before they cause any problems.
The amount of radiation received from a dental x-ray is extremely small. We get more radiation from natural sources, including minerals in the soil, and from our general environment.
With modern techniques and equipment, risks are kept as small as possible. However, your dental team will always take care to use x-rays only when they need to.
You should always tell your dental team if you are pregnant. They will take extra care and will probably not use x-rays unless they really have to, especially during the first three months.