Dental Implants vs. Dental Bridges
Lost teeth can completely change the appearance of your smile. Perhaps even more importantly, lost teeth can also compromise your health. In the case of missing teeth, patients generally have two options: a dental bridge, or a dental implant. While both options will hide the appearance of missing teeth, they’re very different from each other.
Dental Bridges and Dental Implants Defined
- Dental Bridge: Dental bridges1 are used to restore the appearance of missing teeth. Artificial teeth are modeled to imitate the patient’s natural smile. Spanning the gap created by lost teeth, the bridge is held in place by anchor teeth on either side. Dental bridges can also be referred to as partial dentures and can be a good solution whether just one tooth is missing, or several in a row have been lost.
- Dental Implant: Dental implants2 serve a similar function to dental bridges, but they’re different in infrastructure. What’s important to note is that a dental implant doesn’t just replace the visible part of the missing tooth. It actually replaces the root of the tooth, where it joins with the jawbone. A dental implant is an anchor inserted into the gums, where the missing tooth (or teeth) used to be. The implant fuses with the jawbone to imitate the natural tooth’s root. A prosthetic is placed atop the implant to hide gaps and restore your beautiful smile. Dental implants can be used to restore your smile whether you’re missing one tooth, several teeth, or all of your teeth.
Consequences of Missing Teeth
Few people understand that the problems with missing teeth go beyond appearance. Lost teeth can greatly impact your dental health and even your total body health. Here are a few notable consequences of missing teeth, and how restorative dental work can help.
- Problem: Shifting teeth. When one tooth is missing, other teeth will shift to fill the space. This can result in further tooth loss, discomfort, and a misaligned smile.
- Solution: Both dental implants and dental bridges will prevent shifting teeth by holding the place of the missing teeth.
- Problem: Bone loss. Without the tooth’s root, bone loss can occur in the jaw where the tooth and jaw used to meet.
- Solution: Only dental implants can prevent bone loss caused by missing teeth.
- Problem: Discomfort chewing. Studies have shown that patients with missing teeth often change their diet because of discomfort in the mouth, and inability to effectively chew food.
- Solution: Both dental implants and dental bridges will restore your ability to effectively chew food. However, some patients prefer the feeling of dental implants since they integrate completely with surrounding bone, gums, and teeth.
- Problem: Appearance and aesthetics. Missing teeth cause many patients to feel self-conscious of their smile, which can hold them back in both personal and professional pursuits.
- Solution: Here at Washington State Prosthodontics, we can effectively restore the beautiful appearance of your smile using either dental bridges or dental implants.
Bone Loss and Oral Health
Perhaps the most notable way that dental implants and bridges differ is in their effect on your bone and gum health.
Dental implants may be one of the most revolutionary advances in dentistry in the 20th century. You see, while bridges, crowns, and dentures can all hide the appearance of missing teeth by imitating their appearance, they can’t actually imitate their full function effectively. When the root of a tooth goes missing, especially if it’s over a wide area, patients risk bone deterioration in the jaw. Without the underlying bone support, your gums can also recede. However, implants actually fuse with the jawbone, to create an anchor just as effective as a natural tooth. This halts further deterioration.
Dental bridges cannot be anchored to the jaw all by themselves. They can only be used as a prosthetic on top of a dental implant anchor or attached to the surrounding teeth. When attached to surrounding teeth, without an anchor in place, dental bridges can’t halt the deterioration of bone tissue in the jaw.
Process and Recovery
Because dental implants are a more intensive procedure than a bridge, patients should expect more time spent in treatment and more time in recovery. Generally, dental implants are done in three phases:
- Surgical implantation of the anchor into the gums.
- Healing and growing phase (known as “osseointegration”) during which surrounding bone actually fuses with the anchor. This phase can possibly take up to several months.
- Placement of permanent prosthetic (which may include a bridge, crown, or denture).
Because there’s no surgery necessary for a bridge alone, the process is not as intensive or as long. However, patients may still need a couple of visits to complete the restoration. First, we take an impression of your teeth to ensure an effective fit. A temporary bridge will be placed while a permanent bridge is created using the impression we take in the office. During your second visit, we’ll prepare abutment teeth (neighboring teeth which will be used as anchors) for bridge placement, and then permanently place your custom-made prosthetic.
Dental bridges usually last 5--15 years. This time can vary according to the quality of the bridge, how well-maintained it is, and the oral health of the patient.
However, dental implants are a more long-lasting, permanent solution. Usually, they’ll last 25 years or longer, although numbers may vary depending on the dental hygiene and health of the patient. Much like natural teeth, implants don’t always last forever. They can be damaged, and gum support can fail because of gum disease. That being said, here at Washington State Prosthodontics, our patients can usually expect dental implants to last as long as the rest of their healthy teeth.
Many patients’ primary concern when making the choice between implants and bridges is the appearance. The appearance of your dental implant or dental bridge will depend largely on the material used for the prosthetic, and the skill of the cosmetic dentist who designs it. This is an area where science fuses with art to give you beautiful, natural results.
The contrast between the appearance of a dental implant and a dental bridge lies in the gums. Bridges will always struggle to blend perfectly and fit perfectly against underlying gums. Bridges also will have to be anchored to surrounding teeth. Implants, on the other hand, can stand independently, and blend perfectly into the natural gums.
Both dental implants and dental bridges can vary greatly in cost, depending on the case. The final cost of an implant will depend on the health of your mouth, the amount of missing teeth, the materials used for the anchor and the crown, sedation technique during surgery, etc.
The cost of dental bridges also varies depending on the size of the bridge, the material used for the crown, etc. Cost is more limited because you don’t need to worry about surgery. However, it’s important to note that dental bridges are a less permanent solution, and so they could cost more down the road if you need to get replacements.
Contact us3 to learn more about dental implants and dental bridges, and which solution is right for you.