Partial dentures can replace several missing teeth but not an entire upper or lower set of teeth. To get partial dentures, you must have some healthy teeth remaining in the upper and lower parts of your mouth.
This article provides information about partial dentures, including types, costs, and materials they’re made with. If you’ve experienced a loss of teeth, talk with a dentist to see if partial dentures are right for you.
What are partial dentures?
Partial dentures are usually removable dentures that replace multiple teeth in the upper or lower portion of your mouth.
Partial dentures are more than cosmetic devices. They can also enhance chewing and speaking for the wearer. Partial dentures can also preserve the placement of the remaining teeth in your mouth, which may otherwise shift over time.
Partial dentures aren’t usually intended for around-the-clock wear. Most dentists will recommend removing partial dentures at night and cleaning them.
According to a 2017 research review, cleaning partial dentures not only keeps them clean, but it also reduces the risk of developing cavities in nearby healthy teeth because you can brush around them properly.
The removable nature of partial dentures — as well as concerns over appearance and fit — can sometimes make them a less popular option.
The same research review above found that an estimated 39 percent of removable partial dentures were no longer in use 5 years after dentists produced them for patients.
Why would one need partial dentures?
You may benefit from partial dentures if you’ve lost multiple teeth in the top or bottom of your jaw. Some contributing factors to a loss of your teeth include:
- removal of teeth or extraction
Whatever the reason, it’s important that your remaining teeth stay healthy. A dentist will construct the partial dentures, considering your remaining teeth. If these teeth are not healthy, a dentist may recommend extracting your teeth and utilizing full dentures instead.
What types of partial dentures are available?
Different manufacturing techniques and materials mean that there are a lot of partial denture options out there. The following are some considerations to know about partial denture types.
Location in your mouth
Partial dentures may replace the front (anterior) portion of your teeth or the back (posterior) portion.
In a 2017 study, people who had anterior partial dentures reported the greatest level of satisfaction.
The researchers in the study above thought that the level of satisfaction might’ve been because the dentures made the greatest cosmetic difference for people’s smiles. But replacing the front teeth with partial dentures can also help people bite into foods more easily.
Also, posterior dentures can aid in speaking and eating, which also enhances satisfaction.
Number of teeth on the dentures
Partial dentures aren’t the only option when it comes to replacing missing teeth. You may also choose full dentures, which replace an entire set of missing upper or lower teeth. If you have teeth remaining, your dentist will have to pull your teeth before you get full dentures.
Bridges are another type of replacement for teeth. They’re similar to partial dentures because they replace only a few missing teeth.
However, bridges are usually present on one side of your mouth while partial dentures can replace teeth on both sides of your mouth. Also, bridges tend to be permanently glued in, while partial dentures are often removable.
Typically, a dentist will recommend partial dentures when you have three or more missing teeth that are next to each other.
A dentist may not always give you permanent partial dentures. Instead, you may have a temporary option. This is usually the case when your dentist has extracted damaged or decaying teeth that your partial dentures will replace.
According to the Oral Health Foundation, your gums need time to heal (usually about 6 months) after an extraction. After this time, your dentist can craft permanent partial dentures.
For the base of the dentures, a dentist can use either plastic (resin) or metal, such as a mixture of cobalt and chromium.
Dentists may make larger partial dentures with titanium. However, titanium caused inflammatory reactions in about 0.6 percent of people in a 2017 research review.
Plastic and polymers
The Oral Health Foundation also emphasizes that bases made with plastic tend to be less expensive than those made from metal. This is because metal bases are lighter and more durable than plastic alternatives.
However, plastic or polymer-based dentures have advantages as well, including:
- a desirable aesthetic appearance because no metal is visible
- easiness to make and repair
- lightweight and flexible
Some people also choose another option for partial dentures called “flexible” dentures. These dentures are made from thin, lightweight thermoplastics and without visible metal clips.
However, flexible dentures are usually bulkier than metal alternatives because they can break if they are made too thin, according to a 2014 research review.
Also, you’ll put in flexible dentures differently than the other types. Most metal- and plastic-based dentures are inserted directly into your mouth.
With flexible dentures, you will usually warm the flexible dentures in water for a minute first to help the dentures better mold to your gums.
Attachments in your mouth
Dentists usually fit partial dentures with either clasps or precision attachments.
Clasps are usually made from metal and will circle at least half of your adjoining teeth to partial dentures. Depending on where the clasps are placed, the metal may be visible when you smile.
Precision attachments will attach onto existing teeth or dental implants. Dentists will customize precision attachments to each patient, including crowns to fit over existing teeth.
According to the American Dental Association, the extra work involved in crafting the attachments means they typically cost more than clasp attachments.
How much do partial dentures cost?
Partial dentures vary in cost, based on a number of factors, including:
- materials used
- number of teeth replaced
- location in your mouth
- method of creating the dentures
You may also require dental care beforehand and denture adjustments after receiving your partial dentures.
To give you an idea of how much partial dentures may cost, the American Dental Association’s national fee survey from 2016 lists average costs as:
- upper partial dentures with a resin base: $1,215
- upper partial dentures with a cast metal base with resin saddles: $1,685
- upper flexible dentures: $1,444
Paying for dentures
If you have dental insurance, your plan may pay for a portion of your partial denture costs.
You can look at your insurance’s “Explanation of Benefits” for restorative services. Some insurance companies will pay a flat rate or 50 percent of your denture costs, depending on the plan.
Original Medicare does not traditionally pay for partial dentures. However, some Medicare Advantage plans include dental services that may help pay for at least a portion of your partial dentures.
Medicaid may also cover some costs associated with partial dentures, but coverage varies from state to state.
Other ways to receive financial assistance or ease paying for partial dentures include asking your dentist if payment plans are available or finding a local dental school that offers discounted dentures.
How do I choose the right partial dentures for me?
A general dentist or a dentist who specializes in making dentures, called a prosthodontist, will create your partial dentures. When doing so, they take several factors into account, such as:
- anatomy of your mouth, including your hard and soft palate
- your remaining teeth and how they fit together
- your cosmetic dentistry
When considering the type of partial dentures you would like, ask yourself the following questions:
- What allergies do I have? People with metal or acrylic allergies may need to wear flexible dentures.
- Do I mind if someone sees metal clips for my partial dentures? If your missing teeth are in the back of your mouth, this factor may be less important. For front teeth, you may prefer acrylic or precision attachments.
- How much can I reasonably afford to pay for partial dentures? Cost is an important factor in getting dentures that meet your needs but don’t break the bank.
Your dentist or prosthodontist can also help you make the right choice when it comes to the best partial dentures for you.
The bottom line
According to a 2017 research review, an estimated 20 percent of adults in the United States have some missing teeth. If you have experienced a loss of teeth or trauma, but have some teeth left, partial dentures can help improve your smile.
Talk with a dentist about partial denture options and costs to determine what may work best for you.