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It is a sad fact of aging that eventually, teeth begin to fall out or experience problems requiring them to be extracted. Even before old age sets in, trauma or gum disease may cause a handful of teeth to need to be removed. When this happens, there are a number of different options one can take. Artificial teeth have advanced rapidly, to a point where in many cases they are indistinguishable from real teeth.
The history of artificial teeth is extremely long, with humans having made fake replacements for lost teeth at least since the 7th century BCE, when the Etruscans created dentures with the teeth from dead humans and animals. This style of dentures, although somewhat morbid, was actually very popular well into the 19th century. Although these teeth, since they were no longer alive, did deteriorate quickly, they were also easy to make and quite cheap, so remained accessible even after other options became available.
Artificial teeth are important even before the entire mouth is empty of teeth, and even if enough teeth remain to eat, simply because with large empty spaces the other teeth may drift or fall in on each other. For this reason, single replacement artificial teeth have become an important part of modern dentistry, and it is rare in the modern age to see someone with adequate dental coverage who has a large gap in their teeth. There are three main classes that artificial teeth fall into: dentures, bridges, and implants. Early artificial teeth were all of the dentures variety, while both bridges and implants are more modern inventions.
Dentures are essentially artificial teeth that are attached to some sort of base, usually either made of metal or plastic. Dentures can either be temporary, partial, or full. Temporary dentures are used when teeth are first removed, while the jaw is still healing, as an intermediate step to full dentures. Partial dentures are used when a few teeth are missing, and are usually attached via metal hooks to the natural teeth that are adjacent to the opening. Full dentures are used when all of the teeth in either the top or bottom row of the mouth are gone, and are stuck to the roof of the mouth with saliva in the case of upper dentures, or kept in place by the muscles of the mouth and tongue in the case of lower dentures.
Dentures require a fair amount of upkeep, and many people find them difficult to adjust to. As the mouth muscles weaken with age, it can be difficult to keep them in place, and some people rely on adhesives to assist in this. Dentures also need to be removed at night, and cleaned regularly, to ensure proper oral health. They can also cause soreness, and may exhaust the muscles of the mouth and tongue, slurring speech until the body adjusts.
Bridges are a much less drastic type of artificial teeth, which can be used when only a tooth or two is missing from the mouth. These are artificial teeth that are directly attached to adjacent teeth, usually by means of crowns on those teeth. Bridges are usually made of metal or porcelain, and since they are cemented in place, they cannot be removed.
Implants are even more permanent than bridges, and in many ways are looked at as the ultimate in artificial teeth. A metal rod is placed into the jawbone, and that rod holds an artificial tooth directly, without the need of a denture plate or crowns. Implants can last ten to twenty years, and offer a secure connection for dentures or bridges that can’t otherwise be achieved. Although a fairly invasive surgical procedure, as the technology advances implants are becoming ever more popular.