Dental implants are considered by both dentists and patients as the top choice for teeth replacement, with a fixed bridge a close second. Implants and bridges, however, can be financially challenging for many people. Fortunately, there's another effective and affordable choice: a removable partial denture or RPD.
Like full dentures, RPDs are oral appliances that are generally supported by the bony ridge of the gums. They differ, though, in that they replace one or more teeth among the existing natural teeth rather than all the teeth on a jaw. In general, RPDs are designed to hook on to the adjacent dental teeth so that they stay in place during function inside the mouth.
We should also make a distinction between two types of RPDs. One is a lighter version known commonly as a "flipper" because a wearer can easily "flip" it out of the mouth with their tongue. These are only intended for short-term use until a dentist can install a more permanent restoration like an implant or bridge. As an example, a teenager with lost teeth may wear a flipper until their jaw has matured enough for implants.
The other RPD is heavier and designed to be a permanent tooth replacement. These RPDs have a rigid frame made of a strong metal alloy called vitallium, to which a dentist attaches artificial teeth made of porcelain, resins or plastics. The frame may also have colored resins or plastics attached to mimic gum tissue. To hold the RPD in place in the mouth, they may have tiny vitallium clasps that grip onto the natural teeth.
RPDs are precisely engineered to match not only the position and placement of the artificial teeth, but the balance of the frame within the mouth. The latter is important because an unbalanced frame could rock during biting and chewing, which could reduce the longevity of the denture and cause wearing of the bone beneath the gum ridge.
A well-designed and maintained RPD can last for many years. They can, however, harbor bacteria, so they and the rest of the teeth and gums must be cleaned daily to prevent dental disease. They also can't stop or slow bone loss at the missing teeth sites, one of the benefits of dental implants.
But even with these drawbacks, an affordable RPD can still be a sound choice for replacing missing teeth and restoring an attractive smile.
If you would like more information on removable partial dentures, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Removable Partial Dentures.”