Merck Manual

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Dental Appliances


Bernard J. Hennessy

, DDS, Texas A&M University, College of Dentistry

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2023

Types of dental appliance

Dental appliances include

  • Fixed bridges

  • Removable partial dentures

  • Removable complete dentures

  • Osseo-integrated implants

A bridge (fixed partial denture) is composed of false teeth cast or soldered to each other and, at each end, to a crown that is cemented to natural (abutment) teeth, which bear all the stress of biting. Bridges can now be made by milling using computer-aided design and manufacturing technology. Once cemented into place, a bridge is not removed. A bridge is smaller than a removable partial denture, but one or multiple bridges can be made to replace many of the teeth in a dental arch.

A removable partial denture, typically an appliance with clasps that snap over abutment teeth, may be removed for cleaning and during sleep. Part of the occlusal stress may be borne by the soft tissues under the denture, often on both sides of the jaw. This appliance commonly is used when many teeth have to be replaced and bridges or implants are not feasible or affordable.

Complete dentures are removable appliances used when no teeth remain. They help a patient chew and improve speech and appearance but do not provide the efficiency or sensation of natural dentition. When teeth are absent, the mandible slowly resorbs, resulting in ill-fitting dentures that require revision (called reline or rebase) or replacement. Alternatives are oral surgical procedures to enlarge the alveolar ridge or dental implants to replace missing teeth.

An implant is typically a titanium cylinder or screw that replaces a tooth root. One or more implants are placed into the alveolar bone, where they integrate into the surrounding bone. Either immediately, or up to 6 months later, the artificial teeth (ranging from an individual tooth up to full arch dentures) are attached to the implants. Implants are not readily removable, although the prostheses they support can be. The potential for infection at these sites warrants scrupulous attention to oral hygiene.

Dental appliances and surgery

Generally, all removable dental appliances are removed before general anesthesia, throat surgery, or convulsive therapy to prevent their breakage or aspiration. They are stored in water to prevent changes in shape. However, some anesthesiologists believe that leaving appliances in place aids the passage of an airway tube, keeps the face in a more normal shape so that the anesthetic mask fits better, prevents natural teeth from injuring the opposing gingiva of a completely edentulous jaw, and does not interfere with laryngoscopy.

Denture problems

Occasionally, the mucosa beneath a denture becomes inflamed (denture sore mouth, inflammatory papillary hyperplasia). Contributing factors to this often painless condition include candidal infections, poor denture fit, poor hygiene, excessive movement of the denture, and, most frequently, wearing a denture 24 hours a day. The mucosa appears red and velvety. Candidal overgrowth may be indicated by adherent cottonlike patches or, more commonly, erosive lesions on the mucosa. The presence of Candida can be confirmed by the microscopic appearance of typical branching hyphae. There is still uncertainty in the possible role of Candida as a cause of inflammatory papillary hyperplasia.

A new well-made denture almost always improves the situation. Other treatments consist of improving oral and denture hygiene, refitting the existing denture, removing the denture for extended periods, and using antifungal therapy (nystatin rinses for the mouth and overnight nystatin soaks for the denture). Soaking the denture in a commercial cleanser is sometimes helpful. Other options for candidal overgrowth include applying nystatin suspension to the tissue surface of the denture and placing sublingual clotrimazole troches 10 mg 5 times a day. If Candida infection does not resolve with local oral measures, fluconazole 100 mg (2 tablets initially and 1 tablet each day thereafter until resolved) can be given. If inflammation persists, biopsy is indicated, and systemic conditions should be ruled out.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Bio-Statin , Mycostatin, Nyamyc, Nyata, Nystex, Nystop, Pedi-Dri
Alevazol , Antifungal, Anti-Fungal, Cruex, Desenex, Fungoid, Gyne-Lotrimin, Lotrimin, Lotrimin AF, Lotrimin AF Ringworm, Micotrin AC, Mycelex, Mycelex Troche, Mycozyl AC
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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