What is a Partial Denture?

What is a Denture? Partial Denture? Full Denture? Removable plate? Removable bridge?

A denture is a removable option for replacing missing teeth. It can be a partial denture meaning you have some natural teeth remaining or a complete denture meaning you have no teeth in that jaw i.e. you are edentulous.

Partial dentures is an abbreviation for ‘removable partial dentures’ or RPD for short, (sometimes called plates instead of dentures). I guess a ‘fixed partial denture’ would be a dental bridge, but I can’t say I have ever heard it call that.

I have also heard partial dentures referred to as ‘removable bridges’; perhaps as an attempt to get away from the stigma of wearing a ‘denture’ to replace your missing teeth.

The word ‘denture’ conjures up the thought of your granny and her teeth in a glass of water by the side of the bed. Whilst with complete dentures, this image is not too far from reality, partial dentures are quite different. They can replace just a single tooth or nearly every tooth and every combination in-between. They have many different applications and need to be appreciated for what they are- an economical way to give you back your smile and teeth to eat with.

You would be surprised at the number of people who are walking around with them; including many in their twenties who have suffered tooth loss for one reason or another. Well made partial dentures are very discreet and the non- dentist in a normal social situation would most likely have no clue that they were being worn.

What Types of Partial Dentures are there?

In general there are three types of partial denture:

How Long do Dentures Last?

Most dentures will last 5 – 10 years. Well planned and executed dentures would tend to be towards the upper end of this range.

Some people have been wearing the same set for well beyond that, but generally an examination would reveal some problems that either required correcting, or a new set being made.

Over the years, your gums will change and repairs and maintenance to your denture are likely to be needed to help extend its life. This may be in the form of adding a tooth if you require adental extraction, repairing a broken base, chipped tooth or a reline to ensure the denture is sitting down properly.

Many factors influence the success of your dentures (as you will find out in this series). How well you look after your dentures and your remaining teeth will certainly play an important part.

Who Makes Dentures?

In the UK, the dentist is the only person legally able to provide dentures. In Australia and America you also have denture prosthesists, (denture clinics) that can provide treatment.

Dentists are trained in the provision of all types of removable denture and full dentures and whilst there is a growing trend towards implants, they still form a large and very important part of dentistry, and will continue to do so.

A prosthodontist is a specialist trained in all forms of advanced dental treatment, and difficult cases that general dentists are likely to struggle with, may be referred on to these people. They may simply redo the conventional dentures to a higher standard, or opt to combine the denture with implants and an attachment for stability. There are many options depending on your individual situation.

Don’t be fooled, dentures may sound like the simple option but they sure do come with their own set of problems in getting them right. I must spend a couple of hours every week just making little adjustments for patients.

Denture Prosthesists

Denture prosthesists complete training initially, as dental technicians, who work on referrals from a dentist and later become registered, in order to be able to consult and treat patients directly.

I have seen some very good work by dental prosthesists, but they do not bypass the need to see a dentist completely. They are not trained in the diagnosis of any oral conditions, (such as dental decay, oral cancer or periodontal disease), or the fixed options for restoring missing teeth which may turn out to be more appropriate.

Thus, it is very important that a dentist is involved in the procedure of making your denture, so ensure, if you are utilising a clinic, that there is an onsite dentist who examines you and talks you through the different options.

Any one can learn to take impressions and do the clinical stages to make a denture, but the overall success depends on a knowledge of the anatomy, functioning of the mouth and jaws and the ability to predict, perceive and correct problems.

Another good resource for whom I occasionally write is Authority Dental, click to read what they wrote about partial dentures.