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Replacing a Single Missing Tooth - Dental Implant or Partial DentureA single lost tooth may result from an injury, advanced decay, or a failed endodontic procedure. Options for replacing a single missing tooth include a removable partial denture, resin bonded prosthesis (Maryland bridge), and the most common alternatives today – fixed partial denture (a 3 unit dental bridge) and dental implants. With the introduction of dental implants, the fixed partial denture is not considered the best treatment option in many cases.


The Fixed Partial Denture – A Closer Look at the Features and Drawbacks

Fixed dentures are comprised of three false teeth which are joined together, with the central tooth replacing the missing tooth. Before dental implant treatment became available, a fixed partial denture was considered the most effective way of replacing a single missing tooth. It was intended to restore the chewing function and also bring about an improved facial appearance. A fixed denture is less expensive than dental implants. However, it has certain drawbacks that make it a less preferred option compared to implants:

  • A major disadvantage of the fixed partial denture is that the teeth on either side of the missing tooth have to be reduced and shaped so that the bridgework can be attached.
  • The three prosthetic teeth that constitute the bridgework require special maintenance with a dental cleaning device known as floss-threader to prevent tooth decay.
  • Another problem with the fixed partial denture is that when it is used, the jawbone has a tendency to degenerate, causing a gap to form between the replacement teeth and the gums.
  • The bridge is not a permanent solution, at the most it can be used for 7 to 10 years, after which it may have to be replaced.
  • If the adjacent teeth that support the bridge fail due to periodontal diseases or tooth decay, restoration of the dental bridge would involve a great deal of dental work. Sometimes, a replacement fixed partial denture may need to be manufactured.

Single Dental Implants Have Significant Advantages

Dental implants are small threaded posts of titanium or titanium alloy which are surgically placed into the upper or lower jaw. Once placed, the implant and bone integrate together due to a process known as osseointegration which creates a remarkably strong bond between the bone mass and the implant over a period of 3 to 6 months.  This enables the implants to function as artificial teeth roots and support the new replacement teeth that are attached to them. Dental implant treatment has now come to be recognized as the best teeth replacement option, especially because of the ability of the titanium implants to integrate with the bone.

  • With dental implants, bone loss is minimized; this helps to preserve the natural structure of the patients jawbone. The replacement teeth function just as natural teeth, enabling the patient to chew food normally.
  • Adjacent teeth can be saved, since they are not needed as anchors.
  • The dental implant and abutment are permanent and will usually last the patient’s lifetime, though the crown may need replacement after 10 years or so. The patient must however, observe excellent oral hygiene to ensure the crowns last for this period.
  • Compared to the fixed denture, it is easier to keep the dental implants clean.
  • Replacement teeth supported by dental implants function, look and feel just as natural teeth; they are firmly fixed and do not move when chewing food or talking.

Dental implants are far more advantageous than fixed dentures, but only a dental surgeon can decide on the right option for a patient. A patient who has significant loss of jawbone may not be an ideal candidate for dental implant treatment. The positioning of the nerves and sinus as well as other health conditions also are deciding factors. During the consultation, the dentist would carry out a detailed examination, study the medical condition of the patient and take all necessary factors into consideration before recommending the most appropriate treatment.

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