Are Dental Implants the Only Option for Replacing Missing Teeth?

by | Apr 3, 2024 | Biological Dentistry

If a tooth’s viability is compromised by deep decay, advanced gum disease, or trauma, you may find yourself faced with the decision to extract it; likewise, if you have a problem root canal tooth.

And unless that tooth is in the very back of your mouth and not between two teeth, you’ll also need to decide your preference for replacing it. Without a replacement, adjacent teeth may drift into the newly open space. This can affect your bite, your appearance, and your speech.

So what are the options?

Bridging the Gap

One option is to replace the tooth with a fixed, metal-free bridge, which looks and functions like natural teeth. But despite their good and long track record, bridges do have some downsides.

dental bridgeA bridge replaces a missing tooth by anchoring onto the teeth on either side of the gap. Those teeth will need to be reduced and fit for crowns to support the false tooth. While newer designs such as the Carlson and Maryland bridges drastically reduce how much natural tooth structure gets sacrificed, the dentist is still cutting away healthy dental tissue, weakening the teeth – a far from ideal situation.

Additionally, some craniosacral therapists believe that bridging teeth together disrupts the normal, rhythmic movements of the facial and cranial bones. This can stress the teeth and their related meridians, and may lead to ongoing head, face, and neck pain.

The solution? A removable bridge or partial.

When the Whole Solution Is Partial

partial denturesShort for “partial denture,” a partial can replace one or more missing teeth. Even if the gaps are on opposite sides of the mouth, a single partial can be used to bridge them. If only one tooth is missing, a single-tooth “pop-in” partial can be made instead.

A metal-free partial can be an excellent option when there’s severe bone loss or a lack of gum, lip, and cheek support due to missing teeth. Many of the newest materials used to make them are extremely lightweight and flexible, and broadly biocompatible. Because you take them out to clean them and the gums below them, hygiene can often be simpler and easier than with other tooth replacement options.

On the downside, it can be easy for small bits of food to get under the partial while you’re eating, and you may find it tougher to chew some hard foods. But in terms of looks, function, and biocompatibility, this type of removable bridge delivers.

Are Dental Implants Something to Root For?

The third option for replacing a missing tooth is a dental implant, which is surgically placed into the jawbone to act as an artificial tooth root. A crown is then attached to the top. Multiple implants can be placed to support partials or even full dentures.

Dental implants are often touted as the best option for replacing missing teeth, since they look and function like natural teeth while also helping to retain bone in the jaws. (Bone loss occurs after tooth loss because the roots are no longer there to stimulate the bone. No stimulation? The bone starts to deteriorate, which can cause changes in jaw structure and facial appearance over time.) In some cases, they may even enhance chewing function, and they don’t require the sacrifice of healthy teeth as a bridge does.

ceramic dental implantsCeramic implants appear to be broadly biocompatible and have a low affinity for plaque formation. Because they’re metal-free, they can’t generate galvanic currents. Yet most implants placed today are made of a titanium alloy that can also contain toxic metals such as nickel, cobalt, and aluminum.

Over time, metal can corrode, releasing metal into the body. This can fuel chronic inflammation, raising the risk of peri-implantitis and even osteonecrotic lesions in the jaw (“cavitations”). Titanium implants can look dark at the gum line and may trigger allergic responses in patients who are sensitive to metals. As one paper put it,

Although titanium is the preferred choice for dental implants as it is an inert material, if used in oral implants, it may encourage toxic or allergic type…reactions. Allergy due to titanium might be accountable for the failure of implants in some cases.

Furthermore, the insertion of titanium implants and their presence in the human body may also cause internal exposure which ultimately leads to titanium ions to concentrate in tissues, regional lymph nodes, and pulmonary tissue.

All of these problems are avoided when zirconia (a specific type of ceramic) is used, making ceramic implants a reasonable and safe choice for some people. However, they’re not necessarily the best choice for everyone, perhaps especially those who have been dealing with chronic illness.

Even among biological dentists, there’s some debate as to whether an implant may place stress on its dental meridian. Research by Hal Huggins, among others, has suggested that any foreign body tends to produce autoimmune responses. As Professor Doug Swartzendruber of the University of Colorado has put it, “Anything implanted into bone will create an autoimmune challenge. The only difference is the length of time it takes for a disease to appear.”

We believe deeply in each patient’s right to make the most informed choices possible about their dental care – especially materials that will be implanted in their mouths, that they will be exposed to 24/7, potentially for many, many years. That’s why we feel it’s so important to share the pros and cons of any dental option.

We believe in providing information so you are empowered to make the best choice for you.

9 Tips to Bring the Best Option into Focus

So what to do? How to choose? In the end, the best decisions are made by gathering good information and then trusting your own careful wisdom. Some tips:

  1. Do the research. Gather all the information you can.
  2. Weigh the pros and cons of each option for use in your particular situation.
  3. Know the percentages of success and failure over time.
  4. Evaluate all the materials that will be used.
  5. Take your health history and long-term health goals into consideration.
  6. Keep asking questions that are important to you.
  7. Don’t rush into a decision. Your socket needs time to heal anyway.
  8. Trust your gut. You know yourself better than anyone.
  9. Talk to your doctor, but when in doubt, get another opinion.

Updated from the original

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