Roughly 1/3 of all people over the age of 65 are completely edentulous (meaning, they have lost all their teeth). If this is your situation, or if you know that soon you may be faced with this situation, you should be aware of all possible treatment options to help you functionally and esthetically..
As most people are aware, dentures are a way to provide people with an esthetic appearance and to improve their ability to chew. Keep in mind, DENTURES ARE NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR TEETH. Instead, dentures are an alternative to not having teeth. This is why I highly discourage people from abandoning hope with their natural teeth if there are still teeth that can be fixed or saved.
Here are some important points about dentures:
Luckily, there are alternatives to traditional style dentures that can improve your ability to chew and to help you be confident that your dentures will not flop around or fall out.
An implant is like an artificial tooth root. An implant-retained denture (or ‘overdenture’) uses these artificial tooth roots as an anchor, giving you something to ‘snap’ your denture onto. This increases the stability of the denture and allows you to be confident when talking and smiling.
As I mentioned earlier, because lower dentures are naturally more loose than upper dentures, I always recommend implants to people who are faced with using a lower denture. For people who have had lower dentures before and then get implants to stabilize them, the response is VERY positive, and the quality of life improves dramatically. A standard lower ‘overdenture’ uses two implants.
To stabilize an upper denture, four implants are usually required. Once these are in place, we have the freedom to cut out the palate portion of the upper denture, which is crucial for people with a strong gag reflex or people with a large bony palate that prevents a normal denture from being made.
The difference between a denture (or an overdenture) and a fixed prosthesis is that a fixed prosthesis cannot be taken in or out except by the dentist. This is because it is attached to implants by screws instead of a ‘snap-on’ like appliance like an overdenture. Depending on how much natural bone is available, this may be an optional replacement for a denture. To create a fixed prosthesis, we need stronger support, since we are not using the gums as support anymore. So for a fixed lower prosthesis, we typically will place 6 implants, and for an upper fixed prosthesis we place 8 implants.
Finally, the last option is available to people who are missing all their teeth, but still have a large amount of natural bone available. This option (much like the fixed prosthesis) is also a permanent restoration, and is most similar to replacing natural teeth. In this scenario, almost all of the teeth to be replaced will be supported by their own implant. Then, on top of these implants, porcelain crowns or bridges are placed, which very closely mimic the appearance and shape of natural teeth. Because almost all teeth are supported by their own implant, the number of implants necessary for the lower is 10-12 and for the upper is also 10-12. Again, this option is not for everyone, but you should be aware that the option exists.