3 (and Soon to Be 4) Ways Your Dentist Can Replace Your Missing Teeth

10/06/2015 12:54 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

We all know what it's like to lose a tooth. In fact, some of us have even got paid for the loss -- thanks, Tooth Fairy!

While our baby teeth are supposed to fall out, our permanent teeth are supposed to be... well, permanent. But sometimes life throws us a curveball, and between cavities, periodontal disease, and trauma, we end up losing a tooth. Or teeth.

The good news is that if you do lose a tooth, your dentist has a variety of ways to help you. Here are three treatment options available right now, and a fourth that will be available in the not-too-distant future.

1) Dentures

Dentures can be used to replace some or even all of your missing teeth. They look like real teeth, and you can use them like real teeth.

But the catch is they're removable. You take your dentures out at night to let your gums rest, just like you take your shoes off at night to let your feet rest.

Dentures have come a long way over the years. It used to take dentists multiple appointments -- sometimes more than five -- to get patients fit with them. But now, thanks to new digital technologies, we can get the same results in fewer visits.

When it comes to replacing missing teeth, dentures will probably give you the biggest bang for your buck. A well-made denture can last a long time, and can even be refit to any changes your mouth might undergo. For example, if you lose another tooth, a new denture tooth can be added to your old denture as a quick fix.

2) Bridges

A bridge is a fixture placed over a gap to join two unconnected objects. A dental bridge is just like that. We put a replacement tooth in the place of your missing tooth and join it to two crowns on either side. Here's a helpful illustration from a Toronto clinic.

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A bridge might be a great option for you if the teeth on either side of the space in your mouth need crowns, too. But if those teeth are healthy, then you might consider other treatment options. After all, it's always better to leave a healthy tooth alone.

Be aware that there are limits to the size of a bridge. If you're missing six teeth in a row, a bridge isn't a good option for you because it won't have enough support midway. Just like a bridge you might drive over, the best dental bridge is supported at multiple points underneath it.

3) Implants

A dental implant is a titanium screw placed in the jaw bone that allows for an artificial tooth (crowns, bridges, or dentures) to be joined to it.

The American Dental Association recommends an implant as the standard of care to replace missing teeth. Implants look and feel like natural teeth, and are one of the most successful procedures we do in dentistry.

Not everyone is able to receive dental implants, though. A lot can depend on a patient's medical history, or how much bone is available to hold the implant. Your dentist can talk about your treatment options with you.

4) Stem Cell Therapy

The future of dentistry is starting to look really awesome!

There are many different types of adult stem cells found in dental tissues. Some researchers have been able to use these to grow parts of teeth. In fact, one study was able to regrow an entire tooth root. Researchers were then able to implant the root into the jawbone and placed a crown on top of it. This treatment was successful in pigs, and it's only a matter of time before dentists are able to use the same treatments with their human patients.

There are also some companies that will extract stem cells from your baby teeth and wisdom teeth, and store them in a tissue bank for you in case you need them one day. Dental stem cells have the potential to grow more than just teeth -- heart tissue, for example, or pancreatic tissue -- so it may not be a bad idea to forego the Tooth Fairy.

No matter how you may have lost your teeth, just remember that you've got a few different options when it comes to replacing them. The treatment time and price will vary based on which option you go with, but your dentist can go over all of that with you.

In the end, our goal is to help give you the best smile possible.