If you’ve lost a tooth, you have many great options to choose from in order to restore your smile’s functionality and appearance. Two of the most popular tooth-replacement options are bridges and dental implants. Each treatment has its own strengths and weaknesses, and learning more about them will help you decide which treatment is right for you. To give you a head start, we’ve compiled a list of the pros and cons of bridges vs. implants.
How to Choose Between Bridges vs. Implants
Placing a bridge is a faster and simpler procedure than placing an implant—a bridge generally only takes two or three appointments. On your first appointment, Dr. Monroe shaves down the teeth on either side of the gap, preparing them for a crown, and takes an impression of your teeth. This impression is sent to a lab that will create your custom bridge, but it’s also used to make a temporary bridge that you’ll wear until the permanent one arrives. Once our office has your permanent bridge, you’ll come back for your second appointment. Dr. Monroe simply removes the temporary bridge, replaces it with your permanent one, and checks your bite to ensure it fits well. The entire process takes a few weeks from start to finish.
In comparison, getting an implant requires multiple procedures and takes much longer, anywhere from several months to a year. This is due to the fact that you will need time to heal after each procedure. If you need tooth extractions or a major bone graft before you can proceed with your implant, you’ll need to heal for a few months before you can receive the first implant procedure. The first procedure involves implanting the titanium rod into your jaw. After your mouth has healed for a few months, Dr. Monroe will then place the abutment and let you heal for another two weeks before he places your crown.
Due to the extended healing time that you require when getting implants, they aren’t a good fit for everyone. You must be in good health, and diseases that cause slow healing or immunodeficiency may mean implants are not a great option for you. Most people are good candidates for bridges, however; you only need to have healthy teeth on either side of the gap and an otherwise healthy mouth.
Impact on Your Other Teeth
Bridges and implants have very different impacts on the other teeth in your mouth. Unfortunately, in order to support the prosthetic tooth, called a pontic, bridges require dental work to be performed on otherwise healthy teeth. This can put more stress on the support teeth. Implants are designed to mimic a natural tooth in every way; they’re implanted directly into your jawbone where your natural tooth once was. As a result, implants don’t require any dental work to be done on nearby teeth and don’t negatively affect the teeth around them.
Implants and bridges protect your oral health by preventing your teeth from shifting into the gap left by the tooth you lost. As your teeth shift, the gaps that appear between your teeth negatively affect the appearance of your smile and may harm your self-confidence, but they also pose a threat to your oral health. These gaps make it much harder for you to brush and floss your teeth effectively, increasing your risk for tooth decay and gum disease—in turn, increasing the likelihood that you’ll lose more teeth. By filling the gap, both implants and bridges prevent your remaining teeth from shifting.
However, implants do add an extra level of protection for your long-term oral health that bridges simply can’t. Without the signals that the roots of your teeth send to your jawbone, telling it to grow, your body begins to reabsorb the bone. Over time, this can change your face shape, giving it a sunken-in appearance. The titanium metal of the implant’s rod provides this stimulation to your jawbone in place of your tooth’s natural root, preventing bone loss and even encouraging bone growth. This protects your oral health and the shape of your face for years to come. Since bridges are a surface-level tooth-replacement option, they simply can’t provide this protection and thus don’t address the inevitable bone loss that occurs as a result of a lost tooth.
With modern technology, both bridges and implants look incredibly realistic; they carefully match the color and gloss of your natural teeth. Implants do have a slight edge when it comes to appearance, however, as they actually sit under the gum line. The pontic on bridges is surface-level, with a small, nearly unnoticeable gap between the pontic and your gum line so that you can clean your gums more easily.
Bridges are held solidly in place using two of your natural teeth, so they feel stable. Most of the time, you won’t even notice they’re there. Since implants are implanted directly into your jaw like a natural tooth, they’re incredibly stable and feel exactly like a natural tooth.
Bridges vs. implants, both require that you practice great oral hygiene, which will also help them last longer. This means that you should brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss and use mouthwash at least once daily, and see Dr. Monroe for regular appointments. Bridges do require a small extra step in your daily oral hygiene routine. You should use a special brush to clean under the pontic, to keep the gums underneath it healthy.
Bridges generally last between five and 10 years, though they can potentially last up to 15 years with great oral hygiene. When they do need to be replaced, however, you’ll have to replace the entire bridge. With good oral hygiene, implants should last an entire lifetime, though the crown on top of your implant may need to be replaced every 15 years or so due to wear and tear.
When it comes to outright costs, implants are much more expensive than dental bridges. Bridges do have to be replaced more often than implants, which may result in higher costs over time. Some patients prefer the higher initial cost, while others prefer the lower up-front cost of bridges with any other expenses spread out over time.
Bridges and implants are both great tooth-replacement options. Which one is best for you will depend greatly upon your treatment priorities, your health, and your budget. In the end, both bridges and implants work to restore the functionality of your teeth, revitalize your smile, and protect your oral health for years to come.