The first is to fill the resulting gap through canine substitution. This is an orthodontic method in which we use braces to move the pointed canine teeth, which normally position on the other side of the missing laterals, closer to the central incisors. This choice is determined by the size of the canine teeth. If they are slim in width, they can be re-shaped to make them appear more like a lateral incisor, and the gums possibly reshaped as well around them through cosmetic surgery.
We can also install a dental bridge, an appliance that fills the missing lateral space with prosthetic teeth. A traditional bridge requires the teeth on either side of the gap to be reduced in size, which becomes a permanent alteration to accommodate these crowns. This is a disadvantage in a young person. We can also use a “bonded bridge” which uses adhesives to attach extended pieces (or “wings”) of dental material from either side of the prosthetic tooth to one or more supporting teeth. These wings are behind the permanent teeth. Though not as durable as a traditional bridge, it does avoid altering the support teeth.
Finally, we can replace the missing teeth with dental implants. In this method, we install titanium metal posts into the jawbone at the missing tooth locations and then attach a life-like crown to each one. Implants may be more costly than other restorative methods and can take several months to complete. But they are life-like, highly durable, and don’t require any alteration to other teeth. A disadvantage is that you should wait until at least 19 years of age to consider this option. What many people do is use a temporary solution until the proper age to do a dental implant.
Each of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages, which should be thoroughly reviewed in consultation with your dentist. And each may also require other dental work, such as initial orthodontics to open adequate space for restoration. But any of these methods for correcting a missing lateral tooth can be effective and help restore both a healthier mouth and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on treating congenital dental defects, please schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “When Permanent Teeth Don’t Grow.”