Losing teeth can spell trouble for your oral health and your confidence. Luckily, procedures like dental implants or bridges let you regain your smile and happily get back to your normal life. As you consider potential ways for replacing lost teeth, you might wonder, "What's the difference between a bridge and an implant?" We've created this guide to help you understand just that. Learn about these tooth replacement options and their pros and cons with help from us at Specialized Dentistry of New Jersey (SDNJ).
What's the Difference Between an Implant and a Bridge?
An implant requires more surgery than a bridge, but either procedure will replace a missing tooth with an artificial one in different ways. If you suffer from periodontitis — also known as gum disease — or had an accident or injury that caused a lost tooth or teeth, a bridge or implant is your solution. You just have to understand the difference and work with a dentist to decide the best tooth replacement options for you. Get a better understanding of bridges versus dental implants below.
What Are Dental Implants?
A dental implant serves as an artificial root for attaching false teeth known as crowns. The implant has a similar shape to a screw, often made of titanium. It creates a sturdy base for the crown to give you realistic and secure tooth replacement options. A dentist puts in the implant during surgery. You then have to wait for new bone and gums to form around the implant. That process occurs in different dental implant methods, which are:
- Endosteal implants go in the bone that supports your teeth. After your gums heal following the first surgery, you have another procedure where the dentist connects a post to your implant. The dentist then mounts an artificial tooth onto the post. Endosteal implants are the most common type of implant.
- Subperiosteal implants involve metal frames on but not in the jawbone. The frame fixes to the bone as the gums heal around it, and once it has healed, the dentist can attach the artificial tooth.
You'll often find dental implants that involve replacing a single tooth to restore your smile. For patients with bone loss or multiple missing teeth, All-on-4® or All-on-6® dental implants may be necessary. These dental implants are convenient options that allow some patients to skip a bone grafting procedure. Instead, they receive four or six implant posts for a sturdy structure that supports a full arch of crowns.
What Are Dental Bridges?
For some patients, dental bridges serve as alternatives to dental implants. A dental bridge closes the gaps between missing teeth just as a bridge connects structures over an open area. The dental bridge consists of an artificial tooth called a pontic. Abutment teeth, or teeth on both sides of the bridge, support the dental bridge. The pontic does not contact your jaw or the area below your gums, leaving a slight space between it and your gums.
A dental bridge can be made of different materials, with porcelain being a popular choice to blend in with natural teeth. A dentist may take an impression after preparing the abutment teeth. That impression goes to a technician, where they create your bridge. It goes back to the dentist, who can then attach it. While a technician makes the pontic, you'll likely get a temporary bridge to protect your abutment teeth.
How a dentist attaches your dental bridge will vary with the type of procedure you need and what the dentist offers. There are multiple types of dental bridges, which include:
- Traditional bridges involve an artificial tooth held in by dental crowns. A dentist cements those dental crowns onto the abutment teeth. This bridge is a popular choice when you have your natural teeth on either side of the gap.
- Cantilever bridges are similar to traditional ones, but they attach a bridge to only one dental crown on one abutment tooth. A cantilever bridge is for patients with one natural tooth by the missing tooth.
- Maryland bridges attach a bridge to two abutment teeth on the sides, but there are no crowns involved. Instead, the bridge connects with porcelain or metal bonded to the backs of the abutment teeth.
- Implant-supported bridges combine the two procedures. You could either have an implant to support the bridge or a bridge between two implant-supported crowns.
Cost of Dental Implants vs. Bridges
In general, dental implants cost more than bridges. The cost of your dental procedure will depend on where you go and the issues you're facing. If you require more than one implant or have any jawbone issues, the cost could be higher than other dental implants. All-on-4® implants, for instance, can cost anywhere between $17,000 to $25,000 per arch. But the same is true for dental bridges. For those who need multiple bridges or an implant-supported bridge, the cost will be higher than a standard bridge procedure.
Whether your dental insurance plan covers your procedure will also impact the price. Talk with your dentist about your options to replace a missing tooth and how much the different procedures could cost.
Pros and Cons of Dental Implants
To make a better comparison between dental implants versus bridges, evaluate their pros and cons. While you should ultimately take a dentist's recommendation, the advantages and disadvantages of either procedure will help you understand them better. For dental implants, consider the pros and cons below.
Pros of Dental Implants
If dental implants are right for you, you'll see a handful of advantages to the procedure. The pros of dental implants include:
- Strength and durability: Dental implants are the strongest way to replace a missing tooth. The way they anchor on or in bone creates a sturdy structure that will feel like your natural teeth. Dental implants may last anywhere from a decade or two to a lifetime, depending on your specific dental needs.
- Realistic look: Once you have the crown attached to your implant, you'll see a realistic and natural-looking smile. The result even feels like a natural tooth. The natural appearance will help you regain your confidence, and no one will notice just by looking that you have a dental implant.
- Preserving your jawbone: A dental implant preserves your natural bone and helps stimulate bone growth for a healthier jaw. When you're missing a tooth, the jawbone can deteriorate. With an implant installed, you prevent bone loss, which may improve your oral health and maintain your facial structure.
- No effect on other teeth: A dental implant puts no strain on your other teeth since it connects in or above your jaw. That means you won't experience dental problems later on related to the implant.
- Little maintenance: Quality dental implants require little maintenance on your part once they heal. You can treat them as you would your natural teeth, cleaning them regularly.
Cons of Dental Implants
While it's important to consider the pros, it's also essential to acknowledge the potential cons of dental implants. If you do get dental implants, you may have to deal with:
- Waiting times: You'll have to wait for the implant to heal before getting a crown. This could take anywhere from three to six months. Once the implant has healed, you'll go back in for another appointment.
- Surgery: While a professional will work to give you the safest experience possible, there are always risks with surgery. Infection, nerve damage, damage to nearby teeth and other issues can happen. Surgery is also a source of anxiety for many patients, and that makes the process more challenging.
- Pain: Even a smooth surgery will come with pain as a side effect. Your jaw and gums have to heal, and that can lead to discomfort and pain shortly after your surgery. That discomfort could lead to more downtime as you heal, interrupting your daily life.
- High costs: Remember that dental implants usually have a higher cost than bridges. It makes sense that a dental implant can be costly because it is a more involved process. While it can be a permanent solution, its high price tag puts patients off.
Pros and Cons of Dental Bridges
As you decide between a tooth bridge versus an implant, consider the pros and cons of dental bridges, as well. Discover the benefits and disadvantages of dental bridges below.
Pros of Dental Bridges
Many patients who get a bridge for a missing tooth appreciate it for the various advantages it has. You could find these pros with dental bridges:
- A simpler process: Getting dental bridges is an easier procedure than implants. You don't need to go into surgery, so the process is quicker. Bridge dental work is often an ideal solution for patients looking for walk-in appointments or shorter time frames.
- Faster healing: Dental bridges are quick for dentists to put in and quick to heal. On average, dental bridge patients only have to wait a few weeks to heal instead of a few months or longer. You won't have to set aside as much downtime as you would for implant surgery.
- A more affordable procedure: Remember that dental bridges usually cost less than dental implants. Because dental bridges are a simpler process, it follows that they have a lower price tag. As long as your procedure isn't an implant-supported bridge, you'll likely have a lower cost to replace a missing tooth with a bridge.
- Support for other teeth: Despite a lower price tag, dental bridges still provide adequate support and strength. This support can extend to the nearby teeth, depending on the type of procedure you have done.
- Potential insurance coverage: This potential pro will vary with your insurance provider. Some, though, are more likely to help cover the cost of a dental bridge instead of an implant. Speak with your dentist and insurance company to determine if you could get coverage for part of your procedure.
- Suitable for a variety of patients: Bridges have a lower upfront cost, and dentists often recommend them for patients with multiple missing teeth. A dental bridge may also be a better solution than an implant if your jaw can't secure the implant. Because of that, bridges are a suitable solution for a wider variety of patients, and they could be the procedure for you.
- A semi-permanent solution: Unlike removable dentures, dental bridges stay cemented in your mouth. You don't have to remove it for cleaning. Instead, you clean it while you clean your other teeth.
Cons of Dental Bridges
While dental bridges to come with a lot of positives, there are a few negatives to consider, as well. Factor these potential cons of dental bridges into your decision:
- Getting replacements: Patients of this procedure should ask their dentists, "How long does a dental bridge last?" Patients should have dental bridges replaced every five to seven years. That means you'll have to remember to maintain your procedure and get a new one done periodically.
- Cost over time: While bridges have a lower initial cost, the price may add up over time since you need to have them replaced. You could, however, get them as a short-term option and consider a dental implant later on.
- Less natural aesthetics: Some patients consider dental implants to look more realistic than bridges. That's due to the slight space between the gums and the dental bridge. For those patients, dental bridges are better suited as missing back teeth solutions. They provide a complete smile without being an obvious artificial tooth.
- Damage to nearby teeth: When you get a dental bridge that attaches crowns to your natural teeth, you risk damaging them. Abutment crowns must adhere to a shaved down surface. This means, however, that patients with a missing tooth and unhealthy teeth on either side won't have as much of an issue.
- Adjusting to new cleaning methods: Flossing and brushing are different with a bridge than a natural tooth or implant. You need a floss threader tool to help you reach under the bridge between it and your gums. Your dentist will suggest cleaning methods and tools to use, making the process a bit easier.
Schedule an Appointment With SDNJ for Tooth Replacement Options
Ready to explore your ways to replace a missing tooth or teeth? If you're in or near Manalapan, New Jersey, our dental professionals at SDNJ would be happy to help you discover tooth replacement options. At SDNJ, we treat each patient like family. We understand that a full, healthy smile makes you feel more confident and helps you get back to living your life happily again. Our specially trained team would be delighted to help you regain your smile with a restoration that looks great and lasts a long time.
Request an appointment or call us today at 732-410-7101 to learn more about our tooth replacement options.