When a child is missing a permanent tooth due to congenital reasons, or loses one due to trauma, the desire to fill that space (particularly if you’re dealing with a teenager) can be pressing. Rest assured there are a number of options you can pursue to help improve the functionality of their bite and add to the overall cosmetic appearance of their smile. Some options, however, may not be immediately available – even for teens nearing graduation. Let’s take a look at why that might be the case, and your options in general.
- Orthodontics: There are several scenarios in which orthodontics can be used as a solution. One is when orthodontics helps create a space in the area where a tooth should have arrived, but didn’t, and is now occupied by another tooth that filled in the gap. Doing so would ideally create room for an implant. The second option would be to close a space left by a missing tooth by guiding others into position to close that gap. In this example, tooth shaping is sometimes employed to properly fit and mimic the look of the type of tooth that would naturally be in that spot.
- Implant: While an implant would seem to be the absolute best solution for missing teeth because of its strength, durability and cosmetic appeal, implants are only viable after a child has concluded the growth phase of adolescence. Doctors can determine if a child has stopped growing by performing a series of 360 degree cranial X-rays known as cephalometric scans. You may read that once teens have reached a certain age, it’s safe to assume they have stopped growing and can be fitted with an implant, but because each of our children is different, the only way to be certain is to work with your dentist to determine the right time for placement.
- Removable Bridge: Another common approach is to employ a removable bridge. Such a bridge is technically considered a denture, since it is removable, but also a bridge because it “bridges” the gap between any number of missing teeth. These “partials” provide stability for the bite and a reasonable amount of cosmetic appeal. Because they’re like retainers used after the removal of braces, some can find them to be uncomfortable at first, but in time, they’re easy to get used to. Kids of all ages tend to enjoy pulling these out and scaring the heck out of friends. “Look what I can do!”
- Traditional Bridge: Like a partial, a traditional bridge serves the same function of bridging any gaps between teeth, but unlike partials, a traditional bridge is fixed. In other words, it’s not removable, and is actually adhered directly to the surface of the teeth opposing the gap. Fixed bridges are sometimes preferred over removable bridges, but they can be more of a challenge to clean and do require reducing certain healthy portions of adjacent teeth.
- Composite Bridgework: A composite bridge is a compromise between a fixed bridge and a partial. With a composite bridge, the dentist would shape a “replacement” tooth with bonding material and adhere it to the surfaces of the adjacent teeth without having to remove healthy tooth material from those adjacent teeth. It could also be removed by the dentist at a later time with relative ease should an implant or other solution be preferred. It has some of the same cleaning challenges as a fixed bridge, however, so proper oral care is essential.