There are plenty of alternatives to dental implants. If you are not a good candidate for dental implants or they do not fit into your budget, there are other ways to replace a missing tooth or teeth.

There are pros and cons to each alternative and you’ll have to weigh their differences to choose the one that works best for you.

Dental bridge

Implant supported bridge upper arch

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

A bridge is the best alternative to dental implants. If you are missing one tooth, or even two that are next to each other, a bridge is a great option. They work by connecting a pontic (a fake tooth) to a crown (abutment) on either side of it.

To place a bridge, the abutments will need to be modified as they would for a crown. This means that a large portion of the tooth structure will be removed, leaving the tooth in the shape of a tree stump. The final restoration will be made of three crowns - or more if you’re replacing more than one tooth.

While bridges are great treatment options, there are a couple of adverse effects. First, if the abutment teeth are otherwise healthy, removing tooth structure weakens their integrity. Second, the bone under the missing tooth will begin to resorb, which may cause bone loss in the adjacent teeth as well. A bridge will likely lead to more treatment in the future.

A three-unit bridge will range in price from $2500-$4000.

  • Fixed in place, no need to remove daily

  • Comfortable to wear

  • Speak and chew like normal

  • Can only replace adjacent missing teeth

  • Can be difficult to clean under

  • May need to change the structure of supporting teeth

  • Does not stabilize the underlying bone

  • May need several bridges to replace multiple missing teeth

Dentures

Interim partial dentures for upper arch

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

Dentures are another alternative to dental implants and are a good option to replace many missing teeth or even an entire arch. You can have either a complete or partial denture.

Partial denture

A partial denture can replace one or more missing teeth in an arch. There are clasps on the partial that hook around existing teeth to help stabilize the partial and keep it in place when eating and speaking.

All partials are removable, so you’ll need to clean them each day and take them out at night to allow the tissues to breathe. A “fixed” partial denture refers to a bridge.

Complete denture

A complete denture replaces all the teeth in one arch. They do not have clasps like partial dentures, so they are held in place by other means. An upper denture is held in place by the suction that occurs between the palate (roof of the mouth) and the denture itself. A bottom denture is held in place by gravity and any remaining bone ridge. You can apply a denture adhesive to both upper and lower dentures to help them stay in place.

Like partials, you’ll need to clean your dentures daily and remove them while you sleep.

Fixed dentures are an option for those who would like implants placed under the denture. These implants connect to the denture, effectively fixing it into place.

Dentures cost can range from $1000-$30,000 depending on the type of denture.

  • More affordable than bridges

  • Can restore multiple missing teeth at once

  • Can be bulky and uncomfortable

  • Must remove daily

  • May need to replace as the bone resorbs

Tooth flipper

Flipper tooth types

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

A flipper is meant to be a temporary solution to replace one or more missing teeth. It’s also referred to as a temporary partial denture. It works much the same as a partial denture but is much less durable. The materials used to make a flipper are not meant to be used long term.

Flippers range in price from $200-$500.

  • Very affordable

  • Quick to fabricate

  • Must take in and out to clean

  • May not look as natural

  • Will need to replace eventually

  • Not durable

Saving existing dentition

Full upper arch

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

If you have the option to save a natural tooth, that is nearly always the best option. While dentistry has made great strides in technology, there is no substitute as good as your natural tooth.

If you have a severely compromised tooth, your dentist will discuss the prognosis of that tooth. While some teeth can be saved, a poor prognosis may not be worth investing money into.

  • Nothing is better than your natural tooth

  • May need additional treatment later

  • Can be costly to restore several teeth

Doing nothing

Three missing teeth upper arch

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

You do not have to replace a missing tooth. However, there are consequences of this choice.

The most obvious consequences are the decline in eating and speaking capabilities. The level of impairment will depend on which tooth you are missing. Anteriors and premolars are most noticeable when smiling.

Many people assume that if they’ve lost just one molar, they don’t need to replace it. They may be functioning fine, and no one will notice. However, you will eventually have supraeruption of the opposing tooth.

Supraeruption happens when there is no tooth to bite against. The tooth above will start to erupt further into the mouth. In some cases, this can result in a total loss of that tooth.

Other teeth will also begin to shift into the empty space. While this may not cause a problem initially, it may limit replacement options in the future.

  • Requires no financial commitment

  • Chewing function will be limited

  • May impact your speech

  • Bone may resorb too much for future treatment

FAQ

What is the most durable alternative to dental implants?

The most durable alternative to a dental implant is a dental bridge. As long as the teeth the bridge cements onto are stable, and they are properly cared for, a dental bridge can last many years.

What is the cheapest alternative to dental implants?

Other than doing nothing, the cheapest alternative to dental implants is a flipper. However, a flipper cannot be used to replace more than one or two teeth. If several teeth need to be replaced, the cheapest alternative to dental implants is a partial denture.

What are the advantages of the implant over alternative solutions?

Implants have several advantages over alternative solutions.

A dental implant is the closest thing to a natural tooth that we can place. They do not put unnecessary pressure on other teeth like partials do, and they help maintain the bone in the area of the missing tooth. No other replacement options stabilize the bone.

References

  1. Dental Bridge - ScienceDirect
  2. Removable partial dentures - Mouth Healthy
  3. Saving Natural Teeth: Intentional Replantation-Protocol and Case Series - NIH
  4. The Impact of Edentulism on Oral and General Health - NCBI