A flipper tooth is a temporary acrylic removable partial denture that is worn to replace a missing tooth. This prosthetic appliance has one or more teeth attached to it. It can be used for the upper or lower jaw and also the front or back teeth. You can also take it out of your mouth at will.
The most common situation for using a dental flipper is after a tooth extraction. The prosthesis is made beforehand so that immediately after the tooth gets removed, the flipper can be inserted at the same time.
When done in this fashion, the patient does not have to walk around with a gap in their mouth, showing the whole world that they are missing a tooth! However, we do wish to emphasize that this dental procedure is a temporary solution and not a permanent one. That means you still need to decide on how you want to permanently replace the missing teeth.
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Prosthetic details for a tooth flipper
The flipper looks like a miniature partial denture. Here are some common features of what they look like:
Has one or more teeth attached to it.
Has fake gums attached to the fake teeth.
There may be hooks that grab onto the adjacent teeth for retention.
Overall most of them look fairly similar to each other. They are rectangular in shape with the exception of the front tooth flipper which can have a large acrylic palate attached to it.
What material is it made of?
The base of all dental flippers are all made out of various types of acrylic but we can categorize them based on their flexibility.
Non-flexible. These temporary prosthesis are made of the rigid hard acrylic. There is no flex nor give to them.
Flexible. Patients seem to prefer the flexible type since they're more comfortable feeling. These you can squeeze them and they will flex.
They may also come with hooks or clasps that are made of different materials as well.
Metal clasp. Patients typically despise the metal but it does come with an advantage. They are the only type of clasp that you can adjust and tighten.
Flexible clasp. These are gum colored clasps that have a lot of give to them.
Clear flexible clasp. These clasps are clear and see through.
No clasp. Some of the front flippers do not have any clasps at all.
When would I need one?
A dental flipper is a temporary prosthetic appliance that is used to replace missing teeth. Any situation which would leave you without a tooth is a candidate for getting one.
After an extraction. Immediately after having your tooth taken out, you will be missing a tooth. Having a temporary flipper to wear in the interim can aid in preserving aesthetics.
Before a dental implant. Implants require about 3-4 months of healing before you can put a crown on it. The temporary tooth flipper can serve as an interim prosthetic. You can wear it even while you have the abutment and up until you get the final crown.
Trial run for real dentures. If you're unsure if you want to commit to wearing dentures you can get a flipper first. They are less expensive than dentures and can give you an idea of what it feels like to wear one. If you can't tolerate it, you'll know that you should get implants instead of dentures!
Injury or accident. Teeth can get knocked out during sports games or via trauma. Take a look at hockey players and see how many teeth they are missing. They most likely have a flipper but they just take it off during matches.
Fractured tooth. Sometimes if you bite down on food that is too hard the wrong way, you can fracture your tooth. In that case you would need an emergency dental flipper.
Beauty pageant flipper teeth
Beauty pageant contestants may need flipper teeth sometimes but they are not the type of contestants that you're thinking of. It is not miss New York nor is it miss Argentina...
The ones who may need it are actually child beauty pageant contestants! You may be wondering why would children need flippers? It is because children lose their primary teeth (baby teeth) all the time. It is quite common for children to be walking around with a missing tooth because the adult one is erupting in.
Under normal circumstances, nobody really cares that children are missing their milk teeth because it is a normal part of life. However for those who are contestants in beauty pageants... the standards are different.
The process of getting one
It takes a total of two appointments to have a tooth flipper made but each of the visits are fairly quick.
The first appointment is to take molds of your teeth which should take 15 minutes.
The second appointment you just have to come in to try it in your mouth.
What to expect for first appointment:
Take impressions of upper and lower teeth.
Take a bite registration to see how the teeth come together.
Pick a tooth shade.
Send the case out to the dental lab.
What to expect for second appointment:
Try in the dental flipper.
If you like it you can take it home but if you don't it will need to be sent back for a redo.
The entire case will be sent out to the lab for fabrication and it may take 5-7 days for you to get it back. That is how long it'll take for you to get your flipper.
How to put in a flipper tooth
You should never bite the flipper tooth into place because you can break it. Always put it in with your fingers in order to avoid damaging it. Here is how you should put it in.
Line the flipper up with the missing tooth.
Using finger pressure, press it into place.
Taking care of your flipper
Can you eat with a flipper tooth?
We do not recommend eating with the flipper tooth whenever possible because they are relatively fragile. If you happen to bite into something hard the wrong way you will break it. After all, it is made of acrylic which is similar to those fake acrylic nails which are oh so prone to breaking!
Try to remove the flipper before eating to prevent damaging it. However if you are at a social function and you don't want anyone to know then you can eat with it. Just try your best to avoid chewing on it as much as possible.
Can you sleep with a dental flipper?
You should not go to sleep while wearing the flipper tooth because it is unhealthy for your gums. Your gums need to rest after a full day of wearing it. By leaving it out of your mouth while you sleep it will give your gums a chance to breathe. When you take it out, you should store the flipper in a glass of water so that it doesn't dry out.
The best way to think about this is if you wear your shoes to bed. You certainly don't because your feet need to breathe. You take off your shoes to allow your feet to rest. Being compressed by shoes all day is not healthy for your feet.
Last but not least, tooth flippers are an aspirational risk. Since they are significantly smaller than a denture you can accidentally swallow it if you're not careful. This risk increases while you're sleeping because you're not aware of it.
Can you kiss with it?
A simple kiss on the cheek or lips won't result in any mishaps but french kissing with a lot of suction may dislodge it. That can make for an embarrassing moment which isn't the worst of it because you can potentially swallow it as well.
How do you clean a flipper tooth?
Similar to night guards and retainers, your dental flipper can stain over time if it is not well cared for.
Rinse them off with water after every meal even if you didn't eat with them.
Brush with a wet toothbrush only. Do not use any toothpaste because its abrasiveness can scratch the appliance. If you want, you can use a little bit of dish soap.
Soak it with a denture cleanser 2-3x a week.
If you avoid eating with them they should stay clean longer.
Avoid drinking staining beverages with it. This means coffee, tea, and red wine but anything that is darkly pigmented can leave stains.
Common denture cleansers:
How long do dental flippers last?
They should last about 6-12 months which is enough time for you to get your permanent replacement for the missing tooth. As a reminder, they are a temporary prosthetic and not a permanent one so they aren't designed to last for years on end.
You can't keep replacing them year after year because that is an ineffective solution. If you do, what you'll find is that you'll often have already paid for the permanent replacement! Therefore you should really plan for the permanent option so you don't have to keep spending money.
Pros and Cons
Benefits of having a flipper
Stabilize your teeth. It will hold your adjacent teeth in place and prevent them from shifting. If you don't wear it, the teeth may try to shift into the gap where you're missing the tooth.
Preserves bone. Wearing one will help in minimizing the shrinkage of your bone. Tooth sockets with missing teeth will experience bone loss due to lack of mechanical stimulation. Bone shrinkage is a problem if you want to get an implant later on.
Helps mold the gums. Using a flipper after an extraction will guide the healing of the gums and mold them to a better shape. It forces the soft tissue to heal into the shape of the flipper which mimics what your mouth should look like.
Improved aesthetics. Let's face it, no one wants to walk around with a missing tooth. Having one will allow you to smile with confidence.
Affordable. A flipper is the most affordable option for temporarily replacing a tooth. Both temporary bridges and temporary implant crowns will be more expensive.
Easy to make. It only takes a single visit for your dentist to make one. Your dentist needs to take the impressions (molds) of your teeth and choose a shade (tooth color). All of this can be done prior to the extraction so you can be prepared in advance. It should take less than a week for the dental lab to fabricate it.
Convenient. Very easy to use because you can put it in and take it out of your mouth with ease. If you break it, it is also easy to replace. Cleaning it is a breeze because you can take it out of your mouth to clean.
Fragile. It is a temporary prosthesis so its durability is nothing to write home about. If you bite into something hard the wrong way you will break it.
Retention issues. If you get a tooth flipper with no clasps or hooks on it, it may have trouble staying in your mouth. You may feel like it keeps trying to come out. If that is the case you may need denture glue like polident to help hold it in.
Loosens over time. Especially if you've had a tooth extracted, the extraction site will shrink as it heals. That means the flipper will get looser over time. If you get a temporary dental bridge, this would never happen because it is glued onto the adjacent teeth.
Discomfort. The flipper is a temporary denture and no one likes dentures. The bulkiness of this prosthetic is not the most comfortable. This is why implants are the ideal choice.
Potential allergy. You could be allergic to the materials that it is made out of. Please speak with your dentist if you notice any reactions.
The are two alternatives to a flipper tooth:
Temporary dental bridge
Temporary implant crown
We're aware that some online resources list implants and bridges as alternatives to a tooth flipper but that is an incorrect comparison. It is wrong to do so because you're comparing apples to oranges. The flipper is a temporary prosthesis while implants and bridges are permanent restorations.
For a more accurate comparison you must compare it to the temporary versions of those procedures. The flipper must be compared to a temporary bridge and a temporary implant crown.
Temporary dental bridge
A temporary bridge still requires the same treatment process as its permanent counterpart. That means you must prepare both of the adjacent teeth for crowns by shaving them down. They must be prepped for crowns if they are to be fitted with a temporary bridge. After everything heals, the temporary bridge can be replaced with a permanent one.
Essentially, both of the adjacent teeth are being sacrificed in order to restore the missing tooth. A bridge procedure used to be a much more common restorative option for an extracted tooth prior to the advent of dental implants.
Temporary implant crown
It is not always possible but there are times where you can get a temporary implant crown. Sometimes the implant can be "immediately provisionalized," which is when you can make a temporary crown for the implant. If this option is available, it would make it a viable alternative to a flipper.
The downside is that this option is not always available. Oftentimes the implant is not stable enough to support immediate provisionalization. By putting a temporary implant crown on, you may risk the entire implant failing. Therefore this technique is used on a case by case basis.
Nonetheless, this treatment plan is more conservative in that implants do not require the adjacent teeth to be crown prepped. Sometimes people think that implants are more "aggressive" but it is actually the opposite. Implants are more "conservative" in that they do not touch nor harm the adjacent teeth!
Flipper tooth cost
A dental flipper is the least expensive option for temporarily replacing a missing tooth. The average cost of a flipper tooth is about $300-$500. Depending on how many teeth that you're replacing it may cost more.
As a reminder, these are temporary prosthetic oral appliances and not permanent. That means they aren't as sturdy as permanent options. If you happen to break it, you will need to pay for a new one so be sure to take good care of it.