by Tess Valentino, BonaDent

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Despite the fact that they’ve been available for many years, flexible partials — no matter the type or manufacturer — seem to remain a controversial removable product. Personally, I’m often left scratching my head as to why this is. Sure, they’re not suitable for every situation — no restoration type is — but they’re also more practical than they’re often made out to be. So if you’ve been put off by flexible partials’ reputation, or maybe even tried them in the past but had a bad experience, I’d like to give you some food for thought on our experience with modern flexible partials, and how they compare to traditional cast or acrylic partials. Here are some of the most common questions I field on a daily basis:

“Is flexible better than cast or acrylic?” 

callout 1The truth is neither is really better than the other, as there are several circumstances in which one would be more suitable. For instance, because flexible partials can be designed smaller, they make an ideal removable option when only one replacement tooth is needed, and because of their relative inexpensiveness, they’re a great temporary restoration for someone still waiting to receive an implant. Flexi partials are also made of nylon, which makes them ideal for someone allergic to the monomer in acrylic partials.

However, cast and acrylic partials may be the better option for most immediate cases because they’re more easily adjusted after tissue resorption than flexi partials are, though making adjustments to flexi partials is not the impossibility it’s made out to be (I’ll explain that further in a moment).

Flexi partials are tissue born, meaning that — unlike tooth born cast or acrylic partials that need rest seats and guides — flexi partials incorporate the undercut of the tissue, and thus no rest seats are needed. On one hand, this can be advantageous as it eliminates the possibility of metal showing in patients’ mouths, enabling high esthetics. But it does mean flexi partials are not ideal for someone who has a flat ridge or free-end distal extensions because they rely on the tissue undercut to stay in place.

However, you can get similar esthetics to a flexi partial without the problems caused by tissue resorption when you prescribe a cast or acrylic partial using flexible clasps instead of traditional rest seats and guides. This may not provide the same level of comfort as a flexi partial, but it may be an option to consider depending on your patient’s needs and esthetic desires.

“Flexible partials can’t be relined, repaired, or added to, correct?” 

Not true! It used to be that the nylon in a flexi partial couldn’t bond to itself, and adjustments were only possible by stripping the old nylon off and replacing it completely in a process called rebasing. But thanks to advancing techniques and newer materials, a tooth and a clasp can be added as needed.

“In a situation where either type works, why would I choose flexi partials over cast or acrylic?” 

Flexi partials are made of nylon, not acrylic, are unbreakable, color stable, lighter weight, and tend to be more comfortable than cast partials. And as stated above, they’re also the slightly less expensive option.

“So if I’ve decided to prescribe a flexi partial for the first time, what do I need to do chairside in order to achieve success?” 

callout 2When it comes to making an impression for a flexi partial, alginate tends to be the most precise. We also recommend 3-mm of vertical clearance for best results. After the partial is completed, the use of rubber-point, non-aggressive burs is recommended when making chairside adjustments. We suggest polishing as you would a traditional partial, but at a lower speed and in cool, wet conditions.

My final advice: be patient. They may require a bit more work, but many doctors and patients find flexible partials more than make up for it when it comes to esthetics, comfort, and cost. In the end, though, they won’t be the best fit for every patient. But with the vast array of options available, if the situation calls for a partial removable restoration, you can rest assured that there’s one to suit your patient’s needs and esthetic desires. For further assistance and guidance, please feel free to contact me directly at fillinginthegaps@bonadent.com, or consult with your Lead Technical Contact about what’s the best treatment plan for you and your patients.

Tess resizeTess Valentino, BonaDent Denture Department Manager

With over 25 years in the industry, Tess has been a dental assistant, technician, and manager. She combines that experience with advanced technical training from Ivoclar Vivadent, Staub Cranial, and TCS Advanced Technician Training (just to name a few), and applies that expertise daily when communicating with doctors and developing treatment plans. As the Denture Department Manager, she strives to deliver you and your patients winning results of the utmost quality and craftsmanship.


Have questions for Tess on the benefits of partial removable restorations of any type? Send her an e-mail at fillinginthegaps@bonadent.com.

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