Missing teeth affect not only the look of your smile, but its function as well. They can make eating and speaking more difficult and, if left untreated for a long time, they could start to affect your overall bite and facial structure. There are many reasons, then, to replace those missing teeth, and two of the most common solutions are dental implants and dental bridges.
Dental implants are not actually replacements for the tooth, but for the tooth root: they are small titanium posts that are surgically inserted into the jawbone. The tooth restoration, usually a dental crown or bridge, is then fixed to the implant.
One of the biggest advantages of using dental implants is that less of a burden is placed on the surrounding teeth. Because the treatment goes directly into the jawbone, it creates a much more stable base for a tooth restoration than dental bridges or dentures. It also promotes healing of the bone structures and gums under the teeth. Dental implants can be expected to last a lifetime and help to reduce long-term risks posed to the jaw.
The main disadvantage of dental implants is the cost. Particularly when a large number of teeth need to be replaced, a dental implant treatment can be fairly expensive. Even a single tooth can cost several thousand dollars. The treatment also takes longer (it takes about four months for the implants to fuse to the jawbone) and requires multiple appointments to complete.
A dental bridge does exactly that – bridges the gap created by several missing teeth. Like an actual bridge, it must be anchored to something, which means that the remaining teeth that neighbor the gap will be treated to support the bridge. The actual dental prosthetic is called the pontic and is attached to the neighboring teeth, called abutments, using dental crowns.
The main advantage of bridges is the cost – they are one of the most cost-effective solutions for replacing missing teeth. Also, bridges do not require a bone graft if there is not sufficient bone structure in the jaw. The process for placing bridges is much quicker, usually taking a few weeks versus a few months.
A disadvantage of bridges is that they rely on the surrounding teeth, which must be shaved down a portion to fit the crown. This could affect the structure of those teeth over time. Additionally, they are not as stable as dental implants, so certain foods may have to be avoided, as with dentures. Because bridges are placed over the gum line, they cannot affect the bone structure in the jaw, and bone loss may still be an issue.
You will need to make an appointment with your dentist for a consultation on which option is best for you in terms of need as well as cost. Sometimes, a mixed solution can be used, where an implant is placed to support a bridge. It will be helpful to go into that conversation informed ahead of time on what your options are.