A dental flipper is a small removable denture, and it is just ONE design of partial plate. Flipper teeth usually replace only one or two teeth. The name "flipper" is a north american expression. It refers to the fact that the shape of the denture sometimes resembles a small flipper on a dolphin; it's also possible to "flip" the little plate out of position with your tongue.
"Dental flipper" and "partial plate" can mean exactly the same thing, but the words "partial plate" are really a more general expression meaning any denture that replaces some teeth rather than all the teeth.
Let's take a closer look at why you might want one. After all, it doesn't sound very attractive, does it!
Imagine you need to have a front tooth taken out. Maybe you had an accident of some sort; the tooth is broken, and it can't be fixed. Or it's infected and a root canal won't work.
Whatever the reason, you're looking at losing a front tooth, and you want something to replace it, like yesterday! We call this an immediate replacement, because the bad tooth is replaced with something at the same appointment, so you never have to walk around with a gap.
Exactly what type of replacement depends on what your dentist plans to do long-term. The usual options for a missing front tooth are either
With each of these options, it's important to understand that the "new tooth" you get on the day your real tooth is removed is only a temporary solution. It will fill the gap left by the missing tooth, but as the gum heals up it changes shape.
At some point down the line, when it's all healed, you will need a more permanent tooth.
If you are planning in the long-term on having a fixed bridge (sometimes called "fixed partial denture", just to confuse things!), then it is possible to get a temporary version of that on the day of the tooth removal.
On the other hand, if you are planning on either a removable denture or an implant, then it is likely that the dentist will offer you a dental flipper as the temporary tooth. It will fill the gap until everything has healed up and you're ready to go ahead with a more permanent option.
A true dental flipper can be dislodged with your tongue. This is because it is designed to be as small as possible in your mouth. It is usually made up of just the acrylic tooth and a small piece of pink acrylic that fits into the roof of your mouth.
In Britain it's also called a "spoon denture" because the bit of pink acrylic resembles the shape and size of a small dessert spoon.
Flipper teeth are not held in place by any wires, clips or clasps. It stays in place because it wedges into the gap, against the teeth on either side. It also gets a bit of "suction" onto the roof of your mouth.
The advantages and disadvantages of a flipper style partial plate:
You should always remember that ANY denture or plate is an alternative to NOT HAVING a tooth or teeth. It is NOT an alternative to a REAL tooth or teeth. It just can't work the same way as a real tooth.
One thing to be aware of with a dental flipper is that it will attract more plaque around your other teeth. The interesting thing is that it's not just the teeth next to the flipper. Having any sort of acrylic in your mouth seems to increase the plaque deposits on ALL your teeth.
The best way to deal with this is by getting a decent quality sonic toothbrush. I usually recommend the Cybersonic 3 to my patients. Read a review of this toothbrush here.
As one of my professors at dental school used to say, "you have to have realistic expectations about what a denture can do. Some patients expect too much. They expect a dental flipper to be just as good as the real thing. I always point out to them that they wouldn't expect to be able to see with a glass eye!"
If you're looking for a new toothbrush, I recommend the Cybersonic 3. Read my review of this brush here.