Dentures are the main thing one might think of when hearing the term prosthodontics, but this field of dentistry is much more extensive. Prosthodontics is essentially the replacement of natural teeth with prosthetic teeth. This includes not only complete and partial dentures, but also dental implants, crowns and bridges. Usually this field is broken down further into removable prosthodontics (complete and partial dentures) and fixed prosthodontics (crowns, bridges and implants). As the use of implants has grown in popularity in recent years, the line between fixed and removable prosthodontics has become blurred as many dentures are now retained with implants to provide a more natural feel and function.
General dentists provide prosthodontic care to patients on a regular basis, with crowns and bridges taking up a significant portion of the average dentists work load. Prosthodontists take on the more complicated prosthodontic procedures including long span bridges, implant supported dentures, multi-unit crown and bridge patients, and any prosthodontic procedure in patients with difficult to handle jaw relationships.
A three unit bridge and metal frame work for a partial denture
The dental appliances fabricated by the general dentist or the prosthodontist require an exact fit for the patient, so multiple appoints are usually needed. For example, the standard procedure for fabricating your average set of dentures requires 6 to 7 appointments for the patient in addition to many hours of lab work by the dentist and lab team in which multiple stone models are created from impressions, designs are drawn up, wax rims are created to test the fit, and teeth are set in wax for a final try in all before the final denture is created.
A subspecialty of prosthodontics is known as maxillofacial prosthodontics. Individuals trained in this subspecialty are able to create prosthetics to replace missing portions of the head and neck due to traumatic injuries, cancer surgeries, or birth defects. This includes prosthetics for a missing nose, eyes, ears, or anything else in the head and neck region.
According to the ADEA, there are currently about 3,000 prosthodontists in the United States. The average income for a prosthodontist is roughly $230,000 (Source: Journal of Prosthodontics). In 2007 there were 132 applicants to the 20 prosthodontic residency programs that participated in PASS. You can find a list of the prosthodontic residency programs available in the United States at the American College of Prosthodontists website.