Dental Bridges vs Dental Implants: What’s Better for you?

Dental Bridges

These are called “bridges” because they bridge the gap that exists when one or more teeth are missing. Supporting the bridge on either side are the natural remaining teeth or implants. The bridge consists of at least two crowns for the missing teeth in the gap. The teeth that anchor the bridge are the “abutments” and the artificial teeth in between are the “pontics.”

Types of Dental Bridges

Traditional Bridges

This is the most common type of dental bridge and is typically made of porcelain or ceramic fused to metal. The bridge is built with a crown for the teeth on both ends of the gap, with the pontics fitting in between.Ceramic bridge close up view

Cantilever Bridges

Cantilever bridges are less common than traditional bridges. They do not work well for missing back teeth where a lot of force is used when chewing. These types of bridges are used in situations where there is just one adjacent tooth next to the gap where the missing tooth or teeth were.

Maryland Bonded Bridges

These bridges are made of porcelain bonded with resin to metal or the teeth can be made of plastic reinforced with a metal or porcelain framework. The natural (or implanted) teeth on either end of the gap are resin-bonded to the porcelain or metal wings of the dental bridge.

Pros & Cons of Having a Dental Bridge

Pros

  • Relatively easy procedure – Creating a bridge is doesn’t require any surgery, is not painful and the procedure for making them is not at all complicated.
  • Fairly quick – Making a bridge can be done in a matter of weeks, whereas getting implants would take 3 – 6 months.
  • Affordable for most – Bridges are much less expensive than dental implants, yet they are strong, do the job well and support your mouth.
  • They can be repaired – you can repair your dental bridge with dental glue at home if needed.

Cons

  • Not as natural looking – Bridges do not look as natural as dental implants, which make them less appealing.
  • Need replacement – Bridges will not last a lifetime like implants. They should be replaced every 6 – 7 years.
  • Damage adjacent teeth – The adjacent natural teeth need to be prepared to support the bridge, which necessitates the removal of a substantial amount of the teeth themselves.

Dental Implants

If you are missing a tooth or teeth due to periodontal disease, decay or injury this would offer a good solution. A dental implant is a metal post (usually titanium) that serves as the tooth’s root to support the upper part of the tooth, the crown. An oral surgeon cuts through the gum and jawbone to insert the implant. It then fuses (osseointegrates) with the jawbone to provide a strong anchor for the prosthetic tooth on top. The process of osseointegration takes about 3 – 6 months. Once the implant is secure the oral surgeon attaches an abutment to the top, which shows above gum line. This is what the crown will be screwed or cemented onto.

Types of Dental Implants

Endosteal Implants

These are surgically implanted directly into the jawbone. After the gum heals a second surgical procedure is done to attach an abutment to the implant. Finally, a prosthetic tooth is snapped onto the abutment.

Subperiosteal Implants

These involve a metal frame being surgically placed right beneath the gums on the jawbone. While the gums are healing the frame fuses to the jawbone. When everything is ready, the replacement tooth is attached on top.

Pros & Cons of Having Dental Implants

Pros

  • Very little maintenance required – High quality implants can last an entire lifetime.
  • Look like natural teeth – They create a beautiful smile because they look totally natural.
  • They are strong and securely anchored – Dental implants feel and function as well as natural teeth.
  • Protects the jawbone – A missing tooth may lead to your jawbone deteriorating. Dental implants stimulate bone growth, preventing bone loss.
  • Eliminates strain on other teeth – A dental implant supports itself so places no strain on adjoining teeth like a bridge does.

Cons

  • Surgery is required – Surgery always entails risks that could include a jaw fracture, nerve damage, infection, damage to adjoining teeth and possibly more.
  • Takes time – The entire process takes about 3 – 6 months due to the time needed for bone to heal.
  • Cost is prohibitive for many – The cost of dental implants depends on the type of dental implant and what condition the jawbone and gums are in. In any case the procedure is expensive, so dental implants are out of reach for many.

Considerations

Dental Insurance or Discount Plan

If you have dental insurance you will want to check your coverage. Most insurance plans will cover dental bridges, but not implants. If you do not have dental insurance or are looking for something more affordable, you might want to sign up for a discount dental plan that offers their members lower rates on most dental procedures.

Duration of Procedure

A male dentist in uniform perform dental implantation operation on a patient at dentistry office.

You must decide how long you’re willing to wait for your teeth to be fixed. You can have your bridge completed in just 2 – 3 visits to your dentist. Getting an implant will take much longer, anywhere from 3 – 6 months because it requires surgery.

Lifespan

Dental implants require very little maintenance yet have a long lifespan. People over age 40 are excellent candidates for dental implants because they could last them the rest of their lives. Depending on normal wear and tear, they might need replacing every 15 or so years. Although bridges are much less expensive, they do need to be replaced every 6 – 7 years, maybe 10 years with excellent care.

The best solution for you will depend on your particular situation. You will decide based on the condition of your oral health and whether you have dental coverage or can afford the more expensive dental implants.