Prosthodontics, the dental specialty, primarily focuses on restoring and replacing lost or damaged teeth. We sometimes refer to prosthodontists as the “architects of the smile,” as they are highly trained specialists with a unique understanding of all the elements that contribute to a beautiful, functional, and natural-looking smile. Their expertise encompasses not only the teeth but also the gums, lips, and facial features. When planning and executing a full-scale smile makeover, a team of dental professionals often collaborates, and in many instances, a prosthodontist leads this team.
What qualifies a prosthodontist to take on this role?
After graduating from college and completing the regular four years of dental school, prosthodontists receive an additional three years of advanced training at a graduate program accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA). Prosthodontists combine this specialized education with countless hours of clinical experience, and can bring their skills to bear on simple or complex restorations. They are one of the nine ADA-recognized dental specialties.
What Do Prosthodontists Do?
As their name implies (“prosthesis” = addition or attachment, “odont” = tooth), these specialists plan and carry out procedures related to the replacement of natural teeth, in part or in full, with biocompatible substitutes. Some of these treatments include:
Porcelain Veneers are wafer-thin shells of ceramic material that cover the front surfaces of teeth, providing a dramatic change in appearance. These are bonded to teeth that have been prepared by having a small amount of enamel removed, so they don’t appear too bulky. Long-lasting veneers can change the size, shape or color of teeth, and even close small gaps between them.
Crowns are artificial covers (sometimes called “caps”) that dentists use to replace the entire visible surface of a tooth above the gum line. Dentists fabricate crowns from metal, porcelain fused to metal, or all-ceramic (porcelain), and they cement the crowns to a prepared tooth with intact roots. Dentists often prescribe crowns after performing a root canal procedure or to repair fractured, broken, or misshapen teeth.
Today’s gold standard for replacing an entire tooth, including both roots and crown, is dental implants. This method involves a minor surgical procedure where a dental professional implants a titanium metal post into the jaw. This screw-like post becomes fused with the jaw bone, providing a solid anchorage for a lifelike crown.
Dentists can use implants to replace single or multiple teeth, or to support other types of dental restorations, such as dental bridges or dentures. While other specialists typically perform implant surgery, prosthodontists often take on the responsibility of designing and placing the implant crowns. Implants are initially the most costly tooth replacement method, but may prove an excellent value in the long run, as they can last a lifetime.
This tooth-replacement method uses the existing, healthy teeth (called abutment teeth) on either side of a gap to support one or more artificial teeth. Prosthodontists fabricate a series of linked crowns as a single unit, and then they attach this unit to the prepared abutment teeth. These work like a roadway-bridge foundation to hold up the crowns for the missing teeth in between. Bridges are a time-tested tooth-replacement method, but require special attention to cleaning, and potentially compromise the structure of the otherwise healthy abutment teeth.
Dentures are available in many different types, including full, partial, and implant-supported varieties. They can enhance the aesthetics and functionality of individuals with missing teeth, especially when dental professionals manufacture them to a high standard of workmanship and fit them correctly in the mouth. However, wearing dentures typically requires an adjustment period, and some find them uncomfortable in certain situations.
One part of a prosthodontist’s job is to carry out specialized procedures. Another aspect involves designing and detailing each step of a dental restoration while ensuring performing the work according to plan. Whether enhancing your appearance with a “smile makeover” or providing restoration after trauma or surgery, a prosthodontist can play a crucial role in the treatment process. Among the other services they offer, prosthodontists can also perform screenings for oral cancer, and diagnose and treat temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Prosthodontists often work closely with dental laboratories, where highly skilled technicians create lifelike restorations from durable, high-tech materials. This teamwork ensures that patients receive well-crafted replacement teeth, seamlessly blending into a perfect smile. Their expertise allows them to treat the most difficult and challenging dental problems; that’s the reason why general dentists often refer patients to them for treatment.