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Prosthodontists specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of clinical oral conditions associated with missing teeth, deficient teeth, and issues related to the maxillofacial tissues.
Similar to general dentists, prosthodontists also restore and replace teeth with artificial materials. The materials mirror the shape, look, and function of natural teeth. Although, prosthodontists are experts in restorative dentistry. They spend more time fixing and replacing teeth than non-specialized dentists.
Common reasons a patient may need dental restorations or tooth replacements include:
Prosthodontists receive education through an ADA-accredited prosthodontic graduate program. In order to become a prosthodontist, they must complete a bachelor’s degree, at least four years of dental school, and three additional years of residency training. In addition, these specialized dentists must stay up-to-date on developments in the field in order to get recertified every eight years.
Prosthodontists spend most of their time diagnosing, treating, and restoring a patient’s oral health using artificial devices. They also specialize in the placement of dentures, veneers, crowns, implants, and bridges:
Dentures are the most common restorative treatment prosthodontists offer. When a person loses all or some of their natural teeth from gum disease, tooth decay, or an injury, artificial teeth replace the missing tooth/teeth. Dentures help fill out the facial profile and improve appearance. They also make it easier to eat, chew, and speak normally.
Depending on a patient’s needs, there are a few options to choose from. For example, common types of dentures include complete, fixed-partial, removable, implant-based, or immediate dentures.
Porcelain veneers are thin, tooth-colored shells that fit over the front of damaged, misaligned, crooked, or discolored teeth. In short, the shells are permanent dental restorations that change the shape, size, length, function, and color of teeth.
Prosthodontists specialize in porcelain restorations, which is the most common material used to create veneers. They resist stains better than composite veneers and last up to 15 years with proper care and upkeep. Cosmetic dentists also specialize in the placement of veneers.
Artificial dental crowns are tooth-colored caps that fit over damaged teeth to restore their natural shape, look, and function. Depending on preference and needs, crowns can be made of porcelain, ceramic, composite resin, or metal.
Dental crowns also serve many different functions in the world of restorative dentistry. For example, crowns restore weak, cracked, discolored, or worn-down teeth. After root canal therapy, a prosthodontist may also place an artificial crown on top of the new restoration. These restorations keep your teeth safe from damage.
When a tooth is missing because of an injury, severe decay, or tooth extraction, dental implants are commonly used to replace the missing tooth. An implant, also known as an artificial tooth root, is similar in shape to a screw.
During the procedure, the implant is surgically inserted into the patient’s jawbone and bonds with the natural bone. The most common reason patients seek dental implants is because of tooth loss from tooth decay. In addition, you may need an implant due to periodontal disease, old age, medications, trauma, or an injury.
Dental bridges are fixed (permanent) restorations that replace one or more missing teeth in a patient’s mouth. Similar to dental implants, bridges replace missing teeth due to injuries, tooth extractions, decay, or disease. The restorations commonly consist of porcelain or a combination of porcelain and metal, depending on the patient’s budget and desired outcome. In more serious cases, a prosthodontist positions multiple bridges, which provides full mouth rehabilitation.
There are four different types of bridges prosthodontists offer, including traditional, cantilever, Maryland, and implant-supported bridges.
In addition to providing dental restorations for patients with missing, damaged, or extracted teeth, prosthodontists also specialize in dental screenings to identify common oral conditions. For example, common screenings include temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), obstructive sleep apnea, and oral cancer. Although, prosthodontists do not provide treatment for all of these conditions. They often treat TMD with bite rehabilitation and/or splints. After the diagnosis, however, a patient visits an oral surgeon, doctor, or general dentist to receive treatment.
TMD is the most common temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMJD) that causes pain and dysfunction in the jaw and surrounding facial muscles. Patients with TMD also have difficulties controlling jaw movement.
People with TMD may also experience frequent earaches, headaches, and discomfort when opening or closing the mouth.
Obstructive sleep apnea disorder is characterized by a blockage in the upper airway while sleeping, which results in breathing that “stops” and “starts” throughout the night. Common causes of sleep apnea include bruxism (teeth grinding), cavities, and jaw issues.
Patients with the disorder also snore frequently and loudly. Additionally, other symptoms may include excessive daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, memory loss, and morning headaches.
Oral lesions, also known as ulcers or mouth sores, are often the first signs of oral cancer. They may appear in the mouth, lips, throat, tongue, palate, or other surrounding areas. Although, the lesions are not always cancerous.
Prosthodontists specialize in performing oral cancer screenings. During these screenings, they examine the size, shape, history, and symptoms of a patient’s lesion(s). The screenings help determine if a patient’s lesions are cancerous, pre-cancerous, or non-cancerous.
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Zarb, George A. Prosthodontic Treatment for Edentulous Patients: Complete Dentures and Implant-Supported Prostheses. Elsevier Mosby, 2013.