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If you’re missing one or more teeth you most commonly have three options for tooth replacement: dental implants, fixed bridge work and removable partial dentures (RPDs). To varying degrees, all three options will help you function more normally (chewing and talking), prevent your existing teeth from shifting and improve the look of your smile. Depending on your needs and desires, RPDs may be a good option, either long-term or as a temporary measure. Let’s first look at different types of partials, some of the advantages and disadvantages of different types of partial dentures, and how to care for your mouth with partial dentures to prevent further tooth loss.

Partial dentures are made of a resin base into which artificial teeth are inserted and are custom made by the lab from models of your mouth. A temporary partial, called a flipper, is usually indicated for tooth replacement immediately after extraction so you are never without a tooth. It’s primarily for esthetic purposes and usually does not function well. A flipper is supported entirely by your gums and you should be aware of possible irritation to or thinning of your soft tissues. Flippers are best used for the short term during healing of the extraction site before a more permanent tooth replacement solution is completed.

Conventional removable partial dentures replace one or more missing teeth and may have clasps that wrap around healthy `abutment` teeth to keep them secure. Clasps may be made of resin material that is designed to be less visible, or metal, sometimes as part of a metal framework throughout the entire partial. The fit of the partial is very important to evenly distribute your biting forces, prevent trauma to your gums and natural teeth, and look and function as normally as possible.

Advantages of Removable Partial Dentures
For patients with multiple missing teeth, RPDs are less invasive and have a lower cost than other tooth replacement options.
Depending on the material used and other factors, additional teeth may be added to the partial over time.
Partials are a much better option than a complete denture to replace lost teeth in your lower jaw if some natural teeth can be saved. Most people have difficulty adapting to a removable complete lower denture.
Disadvantages of Removable Partial Dentures
There is a break-in time to get used to having a partial in your mouth.
RPDs can increase the build-up of plaque around the abutment teeth which can lead to tooth decay (caries) and gum disease.
Trauma to the abutment teeth or gums can occur from pressure or movement of the partial.
Bone loss at the sites of missing teeth can occur and over time can affect adjacent teeth.
The loss of an abutment tooth may require you to get a new partial.
Partials may not function as well as a fixed option for tooth replacement (implant or bridge).
They must be removed at night.
Caring for Your Mouth with Partial Dentures
Take your partial out every night to relieve your teeth and tissues. Your gums need air and good blood circulation to be healthy.
Use a power toothbrush to increase plaque removal on your natural teeth.
Flossing is very important, especially around your abutment teeth.
Care for your partial using denture toothpaste and a soft brush, or denture cleaning tablets.
Store your partial in clean water in a place safe from breakage.
Place your partial in your mouth and seat it using your fingers, not by biting it. Biting stresses the clasps and can lead to breakage.
Be aware of an increased risk of tooth decay – limit sweetened beverages and foods with high sugar content.
Continue with regular dental appointments for cleanings and exams to keep your mouth at its healthiest.
Consider fluoride treatments with your hygienist to help prevent tooth decay and additional tooth loss.
Xerostomia, or dry mouth, can decrease the comfort of your partial as well as increase tissue trauma. Dry mouth increases the incidence of tooth decay as well. Ask your dentist for a dry mouth evaluation and treatment options.

If you’re considering removable partial dentures, ask your dentist for a comprehensive examination to look at the health of all your teeth. Explore all of your options for tooth replacement and for keeping your existing teeth as healthy as possible. New Hampshire Center for Comprehensive Care is your Amherst partial dentures dentist.