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Bridges & partial dentures

Why should I replace missing teeth?
Your appearance is one reason. Another is that the gap left by a missing tooth can mean greater 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 alter the way the upper and lower teeth bite together. This can then lead to food getting packed into the gap, which causes both decay and gum disease.

How are missing teeth replaced?
This depends on the number of teeth missing and on where they are in the mouth. The condition of the other teeth also affects the decision. There are two main ways to replace the missing teeth. The first is with a removable false tooth or teeth – a partial denture. The second is with a fixed bridge. A bridge is usually used where there are fewer teeth to replace, or when the missing teeth are only on one side of the mouth.

What is a partial denture?
This is a plate with a number of false teeth on it. It may be all plastic or a mixture of metal and plastic. Both types may have clips (clasps), to help keep the denture in place in the mouth. Depending on where they are, some of these clips may show when you smile or open your mouth.

What are the replacement teeth made of?
Usually plastic, and occasionally porcelain. Each replacement tooth is made specially, to get the right shape, colour and size for you.

What is the difference between a plastic partial denture and one that contains metal?
Plastic partial dentures are less expensive to make. But unless they are designed very carefully they can damage the teeth they fit against. Metal partial dentures are usually from an alloy of cobalt and chromium and they are much stronger. They are lighter to wear and can be supported by the remaining teeth. Although the base is metal, they have gum-coloured plastic and natural-looking teeth fixed to them. They are more expensive than the plastic ones.

How do I choose the best type for me?
Be guided by your dentist. He or she will know the condition of your remaining teeth. In most cases a metal-based partial denture gives the best result, but the higher cost may make you decide against it.

How do I look after my denture?
The general rule is: brush, soak, brush. Always clean your dentures over a bowl of water or a folded towel in case you drop them. Brush your dentures before soaking, to help remove any food debris. The use of an effervescent denture cleaner will help remove stubborn stains and leave your denture feeling fresher – always follow the manufacturers’ instructions – then brush the dentures again, as you would your own teeth, being careful not to scrub too hard as this may cause grooves in the surface. Most dentists advice using a small to medium headed toothbrush and toothpaste. Make sure you clean all the surfaces of the dentures, including the surface which comes into contact with your gums. This is especially important if you use any kind of denture fixative.
If you notice a build up of stains or scale, have your denture cleaned by your dentist or hygienist.

Should I take my denture out at night?
Yes. Leave it in water to stop it warping.

What is the alternative to a partial denture?
The main alternative is a fixed bridge. This is made by putting crowns on the teeth at either side of the space, and then joining these two crowns together by placing a false tooth in the space. This is all made in the laboratory and then the pieces are cemented into place with special adhesives. The bridge can’t be removed.

Can I always have a bridge to replace missing teeth?
Yes, if you have enough strong teeth with good bone support. Your dentist will help you decide which is the best way of replacing them within your budget.

What are bridges made of?
Bridges usually made of a precious metal. If the bridge will show, porcelain is then bonded to the base. Sometimes, there are other non-precious metals used in the base for strength.

Are bridges expensive?
Although a bridge may seem expensive it will last many years. It will also improve your appearance and bite. A bridge uses the considerable skill of the dentist and technician, and in this way, it’s similar to ordering a piece of hand-made jewellery. The materials are also expensive so it’s fair to say a bridge will not be the cheapest treatment you have ever had.

How do I look after my bridge?
You need to clean your bridge every day, to prevent problems such as bad breath and gum disease. You also have to clean under the false tooth every day. Your dentist or hygienist will show you how to use a bridge needle or special floss, as a normal toothbrush cannot reach.

Are there other methods for fixing false teeth?
There are other methods, such as using a combination of crowns and partial dentures that can keep the retaining clips out of sight. These are quite specialised dentures, so you should ask your dentist about them.

Can I have teeth which attach to the jawbone?
Yes. By having implants. The success of this technique means you may be able to replace missing teeth without crowning other teeth. Our leaflet on implants explains this in detail. Remember that it’s as important to care for your remaining teeth as it is to replace the missing ones