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You may be surprised to know how many Americans are missing teeth.  Research tells us that about 35 million people in our country have no teeth whatsoever and approximately 178 million people are missing at least one tooth.  Are you or someone you know in this population?

The good news is that there are often multiple ways to replace missing teeth.  Implants, bridges, orthodontics and dentures are utilized to replace missing teeth or close spaces from missing teeth.  There are pros and cons to each of these procedures.

Complete dentures are made for people missing all teeth in an arch.  This means there are no teeth on the top jaw, the bottom jaw, or both.  These dentures can be utilized with or without implants.  Implants are titanium posts that integrate into the jaw bone.

For the top arch, complete dentures without implants are kept in place with the suction created by the denture and the roof of the mouth.  Those with a high arch in the roof of the mouth, or palate, can typically get better suction than those with a flatter palate.  Also, a wider and taller ridge, or U-shaped bone where the teeth used to be, helps with stability.  When teeth are lost this ridge of bone will often atrophy, or shrink, due to the lack of forces created on it.  This can make the denture stability very difficult.

For the lower arch, complete dentures without implants are kept in place with gravity and some friction from the ridge of bone.  Lower dentures can be a challenge without implants.  They do not have the suction like a top denture, they are working against forces from the tongue, lips and cheek muscles, and they have much less surface area due to the U-shape.

Correctly fabricated and fitted dentures can be comfortable, esthetic and functional.  However, depending on the individual situation and on the patient’s acceptance, there can be challenges.  Dentures often effect speech, the taste of food, the chewing of food and comfort.

Complete dentures with implants can be a terrific way to overcome some of the challenges and limitations of dentures.  Dentures can snap in or screw in to implants allowing for better retention, better esthetics, less material and better chewing function.  Not everyone is a candidate for these types of restorations so you should discuss this with your dentist.

Partial dentures are made if there are any remaining teeth on an arch.  These types of restorations will use the teeth for retention and stability.  There are many different configurations and designs due to the endless possibilities of mouth shape, tooth shape, remaining bone, etc.  Partial dentures typically have less material than full dentures and can be more comfortable and less troublesome for speech and eating.

You should speak to your dental professional about your specific situation and have all options explained.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  The more informed you are, the easier the decision process will be.