‘Gaps’ usually refers to the space left by missing teeth, although sometimes they may be due to natural spacing between the teeth. Teeth may be missing because they have been removed due to disease [e.g. dental decay (caries) or gum disease (periodontal disease), or because they have failed to develop (hypodontia). This failure for a tooth or teeth to grow is relatively common affecting 3-8 percent of the population. Although it is not always necessary to replace missing teeth it is often done for appearance reasons or because of problems with speech or eating.
There are a number of ways to replace teeth and these include dentures, bridges, and implants.
These may be used to replace one or all teeth except the very back molars because to do so would make wearing the dentures more difficult. Dentures that replace a few teeth are called partial dentures while those replacing all the teeth are called complete dentures. Complete dentures stay in place by suction and muscular control. When complete dentures are worn for the first time many people may find them strange and difficult to control. However, with guidance from a dental professional, within a short time control is usually acquired.
Partial dentures are made of acrylic or metal and acrylic. Sometimes they incorporate wires which are attached to remaining teeth to help to keep the dentures in place. In certain circumstances, the teeth are prepared with small depressions in them (rest seats) to aid in supporting the more sophisticated metal alloy dentures. Partial dentures made of metal are more easily designed to rest on the remaining teeth. This is healthier than covering the gums. Metal is stronger than acrylic and is therefore thinner and often more comfortable to wear, however it is much more difficult to add additional teeth to a metal denture if more teeth are lost.
It is most important that dentures and the remaining natural teeth are kept very clean to prevent the damaging effect of plaque.