Alternatives to Implant Treatment
It may surprise you to learn that implants have only become a reliable dental treatment within the last 25 years. On the other hand, dentists have successfully treated patients using non-surgical treatments for the past 150 years. So, while implants have introduced us to new and exciting possibilities, you should consider all of the available approaches to your particular situation. You may conclude that a non-implant treatment would be a better choice.
Secondly, for most patients implant treatment is only a small part of a larger, overall plan. They must consider all of their dental needs, not merely replacing the most obvious missing tooth. The first responsibility of the restorative dentist is to, "Preserve that which remains," and then proceed with "replacement of that which is missing." This field of dental science is called "prosthodontics," and a specialist in this area is a "prosthodontist."
Prosthodontic techniques can be separated into "fixed" appliances, (that is, those that cannot be removed by the patient), and "removable appliances," (those that can be removed by the patient).
Fixed appliances that replace missing teeth are called bridges. Bridges are composed of one or more false teeth which are attached firmly to neighboring natural teeth with crowns. This technique is excellent for replacing one or two teeth and has the advantage of being stable and not removable. Patients with bridges often report forgetting that they even have a bridge. Bridges are useful for replacing only the missing teeth, but cannot replace any missing bone or gum tissue. This will be important in a minute. Their main disadvantage is that the teeth necessary to support the bridge may not be strong enough to bear any additional load, or they may not be in the right places. And, the aggressive grinding on the existing teeth which is necessary to attach the bridge may not be desirable on otherwise healthy teeth. Even so, in the minds of most patients, bridgework is the most desirable treatment. Successful bridges can last for more than 35 years.
Removable appliances are either removable partial dentures or complete dentures. A removable partial denture is traditionally used when a patient is missing several teeth in one jaw. It is a much larger appliance than a bridge and is held in the mouth by "clasping" remaining teeth. Removable partial dentures are a good, reasonably low cost treatment that can be esthetically pleasing. Unlike bridges, removable partial dentures not only replace missing teeth, but also missing gum tissue and missing bone. On the negative side, many patients find them difficult to adapt to because of their size, bulk and ability to collect food debris. The lifespan of a removable partial denture is usually around 15 years.
If you are missing all of your teeth in either the upper or lower arch, you will be familiar with the complete denture. The complete denture rests on your remaining gum tissue and is held in place either by muscular control or a denture adhesive. Like the removable partial denture, a complete denture must also replace teeth, gums and bone. Millions of people wear dentures; and they have lived successfully and confidently, even to the point where their closest associates can't tell. A typical denture must be relined or replaced every 5 to 6 years. As the patient ages, denture wear becomes more and more difficult.
This has been a very brief description. If any of these options piqued your interest, be sure to discuss all possible modes of treatment with your restorative dentist to be certain that implants are required to insure restorative success.