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Replacing missing teeth

Key points

  • Replacing missing teeth can improve your appearance and your dental health.
  • You can replace missing teeth with dentures, bridges and implants.
  • Replacement teeth are made to match the colour of your natural teeth as closely as possible.
 

Replacing missing teeth involves using dentures, bridges and implants to improve your appearance and dental health.

About replacing missing teeth

If you have teeth missing, it can affect the way the rest of your teeth bite together. Your remaining teeth may tilt and drift into the gaps and food can get trapped in the spaces. This can increase your risk of tooth decay and gum disease. If lots of your teeth are missing, your facial muscles can become saggy, and this can affect your speech and appearance.

Replacement teeth are made to match the colour of your natural teeth as closely as possible.

Treatment options

If you have missing teeth, you may choose to do nothing and leave the space empty. Alternatively, you may want to replace them. Treatment options include the following.

  • Dentures (false teeth) – removable plastic or metal frameworks that carry false teeth.
  • Bridges – false teeth that are fixed onto adjacent natural teeth.
  • Dental implants – metal 'pegs' are placed in your jawbone, and dentures, crowns or bridges are clipped or screwed on top of them.

The most appropriate treatment for you will depend on the number of teeth you have missing. It will also depend on where teeth are missing in your mouth and the condition of any remaining teeth. Your dentist will help you decide which option is best for you.

Dentures

Temporary dentures

After you have teeth removed, it can take several months for your jawbone and gums to heal completely. During this time, your dentist may fit a temporary denture. Your dentist can usually fit this on the same day that your teeth are removed so you can wear it straight away.

As your jaw heals, the temporary denture may become loose and need adjusting. It can take up to six months for your jawbone and gums to become stable. Your dentist will then be able to fit your long-term denture or bridge. 

Partial dentures

A partial denture can replace one or more missing teeth. A partial denture is a framework (plate) with a number of false teeth on it.

There are different types of partial dentures but they often include a metal and/or plastic plate with plastic or porcelain false teeth.

Partial dentures often have metal clasps to keep them in place. Where possible, your dentist will hide these so you can't see them when you smile or talk. Alternatively, your dentist may recommend flexible partial dentures that are entirely made of plastic. These stay in place by flexing against your other teeth. 

Illustration showing teeth on the upper jaw with dentures

Full dentures

You will need full (or complete) dentures if you have no teeth left in your upper or lower jaw. They are usually made of a plastic plate with plastic or porcelain teeth.

Full upper dentures cover the roof of your mouth (palate). A very thin layer of saliva between your palate and the denture creates suction, which keeps it firmly in position. Your facial muscles and tongue also help to keep it in place.

Full lower dentures are often more difficult to keep in place because there is less support from your gums. It can be difficult to balance the denture against your cheeks and tongue. However, this should improve with time as you get used to it.

Good dentures should fit your mouth exactly so you shouldn’t need to use denture adhesive cream (fixative).

Getting used to dentures

It's very important to have realistic expectations of dentures. Getting used to them will take time. They should help you to eat, speak and smile confidently, but even the best dentures won't feel the same as natural teeth.

Your mouth may feel a bit sore and uncomfortable to start with. Your dentures should start to feel a bit more secure as you get used to them. Your dentist may schedule a check-up appointment a week after fitting your new dentures to check the fit. If you're having problems, he or she can make any necessary adjustments.

You may find some words difficult to pronounce at first, but this usually improves with time.

It can take a while to get used to eating with new dentures, so it's best to start with soft food. Try to use both sides of your mouth at the same time. This will help to keep your dentures in place. 

Looking after your dentures and mouth

Brush any of your remaining natural teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. If you have dentures, it's important to clean your gums, tongue and the roof of your mouth with a soft brush.

Clean your dentures after every meal using a soft toothbrush and soap. It's a good idea to brush them over a bowl of water or a towel to prevent damaging your dentures if you drop them. Ensure that you clean all the surfaces of your dentures, including the areas that sit against your gums. You can then soak them in a denture cleaning solution if you wish as this may help to remove any stains. Then brush your dentures again.

If you have metal clasps or a soft lining on your denture, ask your dentist for advice before you use a denture cleaning solution. These are more delicate and can be damaged by cleaning solutions. Don't soak your dentures in any type of bleach or very hot water, as this can weaken them and change their appearance.

It's important to take your dentures out at night to allow your mouth to rest. It can also help to prevent infections, such as fungal infections. Leave them in a glass of water overnight.

If your dentures become worn or don’t fit properly, they can cause irritation and discomfort. Ideally you should have your dentures re-made before these problems arise. Even if you have no natural teeth left, it's still important to have regular check-ups with your dentist. Your dentist will assess the fit of your dentures, and check for any problems or health issues.

Bridges

If only one or two of your teeth are missing, your dentist may recommend a bridge. This consists of two crowns, which are placed on your natural teeth either side of the space, with a false tooth in the middle.

Bridges are made of porcelain and/or metal and there are many designs. Your dentist will prepare your natural teeth on either side of the space for the crowns to fit on top. These crowns are permanently attached to a false tooth in the centre.

Illustration showing teeth with a bridge

Your dentist will cement the bridge in place, so you can’t remove it for cleaning. To keep your natural teeth healthy, clean the gap under a bridge with a special dental floss. Ask your dentist or hygienist to show you how to floss under your bridge.

Another type of bridge called an adhesive bridge has wings that your dentist bonds to the back of your supporting teeth. Ask your dentist which type is the best option for you.

Bridges can last anything from seven to 15 years.

Dental implants

A dental implant is a metal rod (titanium or titanium alloy) that your dentist will place in your jawbone. It holds a false tooth (or teeth) in place. Over several months, your jawbone will fuse with the metal rod. Dentures or bridges can be screwed or clipped onto the implant.

Dentures and bridges that are supported by successful implants tend to be very secure. Dental implants usually last at least 20 years (if you don't smoke).

Implants can be expensive and require surgery. You need to have healthy gums, and if you smoke, your dentist may not recommend implants as it can affect the success of the treatment.

Ask your dentist if implants are a suitable treatment for you.


Produced by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Information Team, February 2014.


For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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