When we were kids, we all heard about the tooth fairy – lose a tooth, hide it under your pillow, and while you sleep, she swaps it for a dollar, maybe two if you're lucky.
It was as if the experience of losing a tooth equates to being visited by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve—it was rewarding.
I hope it’s still the case when we get older and lose a permanent tooth. When a permanent tooth is lost, it doesn't naturally grow back like a baby tooth does. Instead, it's gone for good and may have serious consequences such as chewing and speech difficulties, teeth shifting, and more.
To avoid these problems, we highly recommend getting teeth replacement, which often involves a dental implant or a dental bridge.
But which option should you choose?
To help you make an informed decision, let’s dive into these factors and compare the pros and cons of dental implants and dental bridges.
What are dental implants and bridges?
When you lose a natural tooth, you lose both the part you see, the crown, and the part you don't see, which is the root.
The root is like the hidden anchor of the tooth, extending below your gums and firmly holding the tooth within your jawbone. It plays a crucial role in distributing the forces that occur while chewing or biting, ensuring everything stays stable.
What you need to restore or replace a missing tooth are fixtures that will provide you with a supporting tooth anchor and a visible crown. Here's where a dental implant or a dental bridge becomes significantly beneficial.
Dental implants are surgical fixtures designed to replace missing teeth by serving as artificial tooth roots. These devices are typically made of biocompatible materials like titanium and are surgically embedded into the jawbone.
Dental implants provide a strong foundation for dental prosthetics, such as crowns, bridges, or dentures. They often come in four main types, which we discussed thoroughly in this article.
On the other hand, dental bridges are fixed prosthetic devices used to replace one or more missing teeth by “bridging the gap” between existing natural teeth.
They consist of two main components: the pontic (the artificial tooth) and dental crowns, which are placed on the adjacent natural teeth or dental implants for support.
Both dental implants and dental bridges are effective ways to replace missing teeth and restore your oral health and function. But to make the most out of your choice, knowing the following differences is essential.
Cost, durability, and procedure
As the complexity of a medical procedure increases, so does the expense, owing to the need for specialized materials and equipment to carry out the treatment.
Dental implants can cost more than dental bridges because they involve a more complex, invasive, and lengthy procedure. The procedure also requires more specialized materials and equipment and has a higher success rate and durability.
Dental implants involve a delicate surgical procedure to insert a titanium post into the jawbone, which acts as an artificial tooth root. This process can take several months to heal and may require bone grafting if the jawbone is not strong enough to support the implant.
They also need a custom-made crown or bridge attached to the post, which can add to the cost. We are talking about biocompatible materials that are resistant to corrosion and infection and can last for 15 years or more with proper care.
Dental bridges, on the other hand, are more straightforward and faster to get, as they only replace the crown of the tooth and rely on the adjacent teeth or implants for support.
They do not require surgery or bone grafting, and they can be completed in two or three visits to the dentist.
Dental bridges are usually made of porcelain or metal alloys, cheaper than titanium. However, dental bridges may damage the healthy teeth that support them and do not prevent bone loss in the jawbone. They also have a shorter lifespan than dental implants and may need to be replaced every 5 to 10 years.
So, as we've explored the financial and procedural aspects of dental implants and bridges, let's now turn our attention to something on everyone's mind regarding healthcare – insurance coverage.
Your dental coverage can be a deal-breaker when choosing between an implant or a bridge. For instance, most insurance companies view dental implants as cosmetic and don't typically cover them because they're not medically necessary.
There are, however, dental insurance providers who cover a percentage of the total implant costs. For instance, Delta Dental PPO Plan offers 50% coverage for implants, 40% for Delta Dental Premier Plan, and 40% for Delta Dental PPO Plus Premier plan (or 30% coverage for out-of-network dentists).
The good news is that many dental insurance plans will help cover a portion of the cost of dental bridges.
For example, a Delta Dental insurance policy, in general, usually includes coverage for dental bridges, ranging from 50% to 80% of the total expense, depending on the details of your specific plan.
If you don’t have dental coverage but still want an implant for a discounted price, you can opt for an in-house plan or personal membership program.
Some dental practices offer this type of financing program with a comprehensive range of benefits for a monthly fixed fee and a one-time activation fee.
One good example would be United Dental Care’s personal membership program. Concerning dental implants, joining their in-house plan provides their members who don't have insurance a 15% discount on a dental implant procedure.
On top of that, they also get to benefit from a wide range of discount offers on selected treatments, such as:
- Fillings (25% off)
- Periodontal maintenance (50% off)
- Extractions (25% off)
- Inlays and onlays (25% off)
- Crowns (25% off)
- Root canal (25% off)
It’s a great deal for patients who are looking to get optimal dental care at an affordable price.
Although both treatments are endorsed globally and are known for their high success rate, they may also have potential risks and complications.
When deciding between dental implants and bridges, knowing the risks is vital. It helps you choose the best option and be ready for any issues that might come up during your treatment.
Let’s discuss all possible complications based on existing studies.
Injury to an adjacent tooth
Improperly positioning implants or using too large ones can harm nearby teeth, possibly causing them to die.
If roots are twisted or tilted too much, it can be easier to place implants correctly. Dentists can adjust the angle during surgery using a guide pin and X-rays. Also, if there are gaps between your teeth due to root positioning, orthodontics can help fix this issue.
Peri-implantitis is an inflammatory condition affecting tissues around dental implants, leading to bone loss and implant failure. Symptoms include bleeding, pus, deeper pockets, implant mobility, and X-ray-observed bone loss.
Inflammation is more aggressive around implants than natural teeth. The main culprits are bacteria like cocci and nonmotile rods. Soft laser treatment and systemic antibiotics targeting these bacteria can help, while local treatments like Actisite reduce harmful bacteria around the implant.
Loss of implant/graft material into the maxillary sinus
Placing implants immediately in an unstable remaining bone can result in implant loss or graft material entering the maxillary sinus, affecting sinus function and mastication when there's less than 5 mm of bone. Various surgical methods can be employed to manage this situation, such as intraoral, endoscopic, trans-nasal, and maxillary bone reconstruction.
Failure due to hyperglycemia
Failures occurring after the second-phase surgery and within the first year of functional loading result from microangiopathy as a complication of diabetes. This can impact flap vascularization, leading to soft tissue infection and delayed wound healing.
It is found that people with diabetes may have slower bone healing by 40%. High blood sugar can make it harder for dental implants to stick to your bone. High blood sugar changes how a hormone that controls your bone minerals works and stops your bone cells from growing properly.
Technical complications with long-span bridges
Improperly fitted dental bridges can cause problems for neighboring teeth, such as decay and structural changes. However, some studies consistently highlight technical issues like ceramic fracture and retention loss in dental bridge cases, especially for long-span bridges (5 units or more).
A specific study was about the technical complications of long-span dental bridges of different span lengths. The main results of the study were:
- The most common technical complication was ceramic fracture or chipping, followed by loss of retention.
- Long-span dental bridges (5 units or more) had a higher rate of technical complications than short-span bridges (less than 5 units).
The authors concluded that long-span FDPs may be associated with more technical problems than short-span bridges after long-term evaluation. They suggested that implant-supported restorations may be a better alternative for replacing missing teeth in some cases.
How will you choose between bridges and implants?
In summary, choosing between dental bridges and dental implants is a decision that hinges on these crucial factors: cost, risk tolerance, and your specific needs.
So, if you're caught between these two options, ask the following questions:
- How many teeth do I need to replace, and where are they located?
- How much can I spend on my teeth replacement, and what does my insurance cover?
- How complex is my case, and do I have any medical conditions that may affect the outcome of the treatment?
- How long am I willing to wait for the procedure and the healing process?
- How durable and natural-looking do I want my teeth replacement to be?
- How comfortable and easy do I want the maintenance and care of my teeth replacement to be?
Asking these questions will guide you in considering the advantages and disadvantages of dental implants and dental bridges. This way, you can make a thoughtful choice that matches your needs and preferences.
Restorative dentists in Culver City
If you are still trying to decide which option to choose or have any questions or concerns, contact us at United Dental Care.
We are a team of experienced and friendly restorative dentists in Culver City, CA, who can provide you with personalized and professional advice and care. We also serve patients from nearby areas such as Palms, Marina del Rey, and more.
Don't let a missing tooth stop you from smiling. Call us today, and let us help you get the smile you deserve.