Removable partial dentures usually consist of replacement teeth attached to pink, or gum-colored plastic bases, which are connected by metal framework.
If you are missing only a few teeth scattered over either arch (upper, or lower teeth), or even if you have a minimum of two teeth on both sides of the arch, then you can inexpensively replace the missing teeth with a removable partial denture (RPD). There are several types of RPD's. All of them use standard plastic denture teeth as replacements for the missing natural teeth. The differences between them are the materials that are used to support the denture teeth, and retain the RPD in the mouth.
Affectionately known in dentistry as a "flipper", this is the least expensive of all the removable partial denture options. The one pictured on the left replaces 4 missing upper teeth, leaving spaces for 7 natural teeth. Two of the natural teeth are clamped on with wrought wire clasps which are cured into the structure of the denture base. When a flipper is intended for temporary use while replacing one, or more front teeth, it is often termed a "stayplate". Most frequently, these are intended to be used only for several months while awaiting healing during the various phases of implant placement.
The plastic of the denture base is brittle acrylic, the same material used to make standard full dentures. The greatest advantage to this type of RPD (aside from the cost) is that new teeth, and denture bases can easily be added to an existing treatment RPD. These are frequently fabricated even if the remaining teeth have existing decay, or Periodontal disease, and their prognosis is doubtful. If later in the course of treatment some of the existing natural teeth are extracted for any reason, new false teeth can be added quickly to the partial, maintaining the patient's appearance. In spite of the fact that they are considered a temporary solution, many people keep this type of appliance for many, many years. As long as they are properly maintained, they look as good as the more expensive permanent appliances described below.
The acrylic denture base is somewhat brittle, and due to their irregular shape, these partials tend to break frequently, especially those made for the lower arch. (Full dentures are more regular in shape, and tend to be fairly strong as a result.)
In order to counteract their tendency to break, the acrylic is usually built fairly thick which can take some "getting used to".
The denture base rests only on the gums, and even though they are much more stable than full dentures, they are much less stable than the more permanent RPD's which are "tooth born"
As the gums resorb, The false teeth tend to sink below their original level making it necessary to reline them frequently, and sometimes even to reset the teeth which adds to their expense.
Flippers are most frequently retained with wire clasps (shown in image above). These are frequently unsightly due to the limitations that pertain to their placement.
Cast Metal RPD's
Removable Partial Dentures with cast metal frameworks are one of the oldest forms of dentistry. Originally, the frameworks (as seen on the left) were made out of wrought (hammered) silver. One of the most famous American dentists was Paul Revere who was a silversmith when he wasn't fighting the redcoats.
The metal framework does not contact the gums. Thus, as the gums resorb, this type of partial does not sink with them and rarely requires relines. Because the teeth are altered by the dentist beforehand, there are fewer limitations in the placement of clasps. They are also less likely to be seen than the wrought wire clasps of the treatment partial. Modern frameworks are cast from an extremely strong alloy called chrome cobalt which can be cast very thin, and are much less likely to break than the all plastic variety. They are also much less noticeable to the tongue.
The best advantage that cast metal framework partial dentures have over the newer flexible framework partials (covered below) is that sore spots are almost never an issue since neither the framework, nor the plastic extensions, contact the soft oral tissues with any force. Patients who exhibit the symptoms of TMJ, or who are known teeth grinders are much better off with cast metal partials than with flexible framework partials.
The Flexible Framework RPD
The most recent advance in dental materials has been the application of nylon-like materials to the fabrication of dental appliances. Nylon generally replaces the metal, and acrylic denture material used to build the framework for standard removable partial dentures. Nylon is similar to the material used to build those fluorescent orange traffic cones you sometimes see on highways. It is nearly unbreakable, colored pink like the gums, can be built quite thin, and can form not only the denture base, but the clasps as well. Since the clasps are built to curl around the necks of the teeth, they are practically indistinguishable from the gums that normally surround the teeth. Brands of this type are: Lucitone FRS, Sunflex, TCS, Duraflex, Valpast, and Flexstar. A second type of flexible partial denture base uses a vinyl composite instead of nylon. The most commonly sold brands are Flexite, and Ultraflex. The materials used are flexible, and can be built with tooth, or gum colored clasps. Ultraflex even comes in a clear variety. Unlike nylon partial dentures, they are much easier for the dentist to adjust making them a much more "user friendly" denture base.
Even though this type of denture does not rest on the natural teeth like the metal framework variety, the clasps rest on the gums surrounding the natural teeth. This tissue, unlike the gums over extraction sites, is stable and changes very little over time which keeps these RPD's stable and unchanging similar to the cast metal variety. The clasps can be seen (if you look hard) on the image on the right below just under my thumb and index fingers. This type of partial denture is extremely stable and retentive, and the elasticity of the flexible plastic clasps keeps them that way indefinitely.
The Vitallium/Nylon Partial denture
A good alternative to the all-nylon partial denture is one made with a combination cast metal framework with nylon clasps. This has the advantage of being tooth supported (like the cast metal framework partial denture discussed above), and also having gum colored plastic clasps like the nylon partial. This combination of metal framework, and plastic clasps eliminates most of the difficulty of recurrent sore spots. Since the framework resists movement, and pressure from the clasps it is able to provide a firmer base while also having the benefit of being nearly invisible.
The Nesbit RPD
The flexible framework RPD can replace any number of teeth in a dental arch, similar to the flipper, and cast metal RPD. There is, however, one type of removable tooth replacement device that can (legally) be built ONLY out of the flexible framework variety of material. This is the single tooth RPD that we refer to as a NESBIT.
Dentists used to build Nesbits for their patients all the time. They were composed of a single denture tooth (usually a back tooth) between two cast metal clasps which attached onto the teeth on either side of the missing one. They looked a little like spiders when out of the mouth. Patients tended to like them, but they came to an abrupt end in the 1970's. Prior to that time, in the rare event that a patient swallowed his appliance, he either waited for it to pass, or sought medical help on his own assuming that the accident was his own fault. In rare instances, the metal clasps were sharp enough to cause damage to the digestive system. After that time, many lawyers discovered that it was a fitting law suit, and due to this it didn't take the dental profession long to abandon this service.
The design of the new flexible plastic framework takes the danger out of an accidental swallowing of the appliance. In the event that someone did swallow one, it is unlikely that any damage would be done to the lining of the digestive system.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How do you wear a removable partial denture?
Removable partial dentures usually consist of replacement teeth attached to pink, or gum-colored plastic bases. These bases are connected by metal framework. Removable partial dentures are attached to your natural teeth with metal clasps, or devices called precision attachments. Precision attachments are nearly invisible, and are generally more aesthetically pleasing compared to metal clasps. Crowns on your natural teeth can improve the fit of a removable partial denture, and are usually required with attachments. Dentures with precision attachments generally cost more than those with metal clasps. Consult with your dentist to find out which type is right for you.
How long will it take to get used to wearing a denture?
For the first few weeks, your new partial denture may feel awkward, or bulky. Your mouth however, will eventually become accustomed to wearing it. Inserting, and removing the denture will require some practice. Follow all instructions provided to you by your dentist. Your denture should fit into place with relative ease. Never force the partial denture into position by biting down. This could bend, or break the clasps.
How long should I wear the denture?
Your dentist will give you specific instruction about how long the denture should be worn and when it should be removed. Initially, you may be asked to wear your partial denture all the time. Although this may be temporarily uncomfortable, it is the quickest way to identify those denture parts that may need adjustment. If the denture puts too much pressure on a particular area, that spot will become sore. Your dentist will adjust the denture to fit more comfortably. After making adjustments, your dentist will probably recommend that you take the denture out of your mouth before going to bed and replace it in the morning.
Will it be difficult to eat with a partial denture?
Replacing missing teeth should make eating a more pleasant experience. Start out by eating soft foods that are cut into small pieces. Chew on both sides of the mouth to keep even pressure on the denture. Avoid foods that are extremely sticky, or hard. You may want to avoid chewing gum while you adjust to the denture. Once your denture is fully adjusted eating should be easy, and natural.
Will the denture change how I speak?
It can be difficult to speak clearly when you are missing teeth. Wearing a partial denture may help. If you find it difficult to pronounce certain words with your new denture, practice reading out loud. Repeat the words that give you trouble. With time, you will become accustomed to speaking properly with your denture.
How do I take care of my denture?
Handling a denture requires care. It's a good idea to stand over a folded towel, or sink of water just in case you accidentally drop the denture. Brush the denture each day to remove food deposits, and plaque. Brushing your denture helps prevent the appliance from becoming permanently stained. It is best to use a brush that is designed for cleaning dentures. A denture brush has bristles that are arranged to fit the shape of the denture. A regular, soft-bristled toothbrush is also acceptable. Avoid using a brush with hard bristles, which can damage the denture.
Dr. Rae can recommend a denture cleaner. Look for denture cleansers with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. Products with the ADA Seal have been evaluated for safety, and effectiveness.
Some people use hand soap, or mild dish-washing liquid to clean their dentures, which are both acceptable. Other types of household cleaners, and many toothpastes are too abrasive and should not be used for cleaning dentures.
Clean your dentures by thoroughly rinsing off loose food particles. Moisten the brush, and apply the denture cleaner. Brush all denture surfaces gently to avoid damaging the plastic, or bending the attachments.
A denture could lose its proper shape if it is not kept moist. At night, the denture should be placed in soaking solution, or water. If the appliance has metal attachments however, they could be tarnished if placed in soaking solution. Your dentist can recommend the proper method for keeping your dentures in good shape.