Definition and Overview
Prosthodontics is a branch of dental medicine that focuses on the use of dental prosthetics. It involves the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of dental problems, usually involving tooth loss or severe tooth damage, and the maintenance of prostheses that have been prescribed.
Prosthodontic treatments are often used for cosmetic purposes. Since cosmetic dentistry is not officially recognised as a sub-specialty of dentistry, cosmetic treatments fall under prosthodontics.
Additionally, prosthodontics also has a super-specialty called maxillofacial prosthodontics, which involves the treatment and management of problems that affect the appearance of the head and neck area. Such cases, however, require a multidisciplinary treatment approach, wherein prosthodontics is combined with maxillofacial surgery, plastic surgery, head and neck surgery, occupational therapy, speech therapy and physiotherapy.
Dental professionals who specialize in prosthodontics are called prosthodontists. To practice, they are required to complete a basic dental medicine degree followed by three to four years of additional specialty training. Due to the highly dynamic nature of their role, they are expected to be knowledgeable and trained in many medical aspects, such as:
- Head and neck anatomy
- Biomedical science
Prosthodontists are responsible for:
Restoring and replacing lost or severely damaged teeth
- Restoring the function and appearance of lost teeth
- Enhancing the overall appearance of teeth
- Providing full mouth rehabilitation or full mouth reconstruction
- Fabricating dental prostheses
- Providing maxillofacial reconstruction
- Supervising the whole treatment process
Although there is some overlap in the roles and responsibilities of general dentists and prosthodontists, there is a distinction, in that the latter can provide a more coordinated approach, combining several different techniques to improve or treat the entire mouth or all teeth as a whole, instead of correcting individual problems. In fact, in the course of implementing a dynamic treatment plan designed to resolve all the problems a patient has with his teeth and mouth, the prosthodontist will need to oversee a team consisting of other dental and medical professionals, including general dentist.
When Should You See a Prosthodontist?
Patients who will benefit from prosthodontics treatment are those who suffer from the following dental problems:
* Tooth decay
* Tooth loss
* Severe tooth damage, such as cracked or chipped tooth
* Temporomandibular joint disorders and other problems involving the jaw joint
* Dental occlusions
* Misshapen teeth
* Congenital mouth disorders, such as cleft palate
* Congenital head and neck defects
* Sleep apnea, and other snoring and sleeping disorders
* Any problem that detracts from the normal or pleasing appearance of a person’s teeth or mouth
* Facial or mouth injuries due to trauma
* Acquired oral and maxillofacial defects, such as damage caused by oral or head and neck cancers
To treat these dental problems, prosthodontists may prescribe the following treatments:
- Dental implants – These are artificial tooth roots that are implanted into the gums and are able to hold crowns or artificial teeth in place
- Amalgams – These refer to a combination of metals used as dental fillings
- Bridge – These are often used alongside crowns to fill the space left by missing teeth
- Dental fillings – These are materials placed in the tooth to fill up the space left by the damaged or decayed tooth material that the dentist removes. The tooth is then sealed with the filling inside. This is used to treat tooth decay.
- Crowns – These refer to caps that are placed over the teeth to conceal surface defects or positioning issues. Aside from the placement of crowns, prosthodontists also perform related procedures such as crown lengthening and crown-to-root ratio.
- Dentures – These refer to a tray holding artificial teeth; the tray is worn over the gums and is a common method used for replacing lost teeth
- Veneers – These are thin materials bonded over the surface of the tooth to conceal surface defects
- Fixed dental prosthetics – These refer to dental restorations using materials that are permanently placed in the mouth
- Splints and night guards – In order to maintain the effects of successful prosthodontics treatment, dentists also prescribe splints and night guards
- Inlays and onlays – Used as an alternative to crowns, inlays and onlays are used in the treatment of tooth decay
- Dental surgery
- Teeth bleaching or teeth whitening
- Maxillary obturators – These are prostheses that are placed on the roof of the mouth as a treatment for abnormalities involving the oronasal fistula.
Maxillofacial prosthesis – These are prostheses that are specifically designed to treat different types of acquired and congenital maxillofacial defects such as cleft palates. Some examples include speech-aid prosthesis and mandibular-resection prosthesis.
American College of Prosthodontists