Generally considered to be a type of cosmetic dentistry, prosthodontics is an area of dentistry that focuses on dental prosthetics, or man-made substitutes for the mouth. It is a specialist area of dentistry – there are nine in all – as recognised by the Australian College of Dental Surgeons.
The American Dental Association (ADA) offers a handy definition of prosthodontics which states that it specifically pertains to the diagnosis, treatment planning and rehabilitation and of teeth. In addition, prosthodontics is associated with the maintenance of patients' oral function along with the comfort, appearance and health of teeth. Therefore, according to the ADA, the practice is centred on clinical conditions associated with either missing or poor teeth as well as maxillofacial tissues - that is, those in the head, neck and jaw area - by putting to use substitutes that are biocompatible with patients.
Why is Biocompatibility Important?
Biocompatibility refers to the properties of any material that might be used to make prosthetics of any type being biologically acceptable for the body it is to be used with. Due to the delicate nature of the mouth, including the soft areas of the tongue and cheeks, it is essential that any prosthetics that are designed for use in people do not elicit local or systemic responses from the tissue they will be adjacent with. In the case of dental prosthetics, this usually means the gums of patients. Biocompatibility is regulated by a series of scientific tests that are used to determine the potential toxins that could result from contact with patients.
What is the Difference Between Orthodontics and Prosthodontics?
Sine many patients get orthodontics and prosthodontics confused, it is important to be able to distinguish between the two. Orthodontics relates to devices which are placed temporarily in the mouth to fix a particular problem. For example, palatal expanders and ceramic braces are both types of orthodontics. These days modern orthodontic systems, such as invisalign braces, mean that orthodontic devices are much less noticeable when worn than they used to be, meaning that they do act in a similar way to prosthetics, hence the confusion.
However, even barely noticeable braces, like invisalign ones, do not take the place of a part of the mouth in the way that prosthodontics do. They merely correct a deficiency or realign teeth to be more cosmetically pleasing. This is in stark contrast to false teeth, crowns and bridges which fulfil real functions, such as biting and chewing. These are all excellent examples of prosthodontics.