Dental Implants vs. Bridges: Best Cases for Each Option

Dental implants vs. bridges

Which is better: a bridge or an implant?

When a patient loses a tooth, they must first determine if they want to replace the tooth. It is important to replace it for the sake of the overall dentition. This brings us to an important question: What is the best replacement option? There is no cut-and-dry answer, as there are many factors to consider. But the two primary options are a dental implants and bridges. 

In general, an implant is the ideal choice because it not only fills the space but also preserves the jawbone in the edentulous (toothless) site. Essentially, the implant tricks the bone into thinking that a natural root is present. In the absence of a tooth or implant, the bone dies, and the structure of the jaw and face begins to change. This is why when a patient who wears dentures removes their false teeth, his or her face will appear to “cave in.”

When To Opt for Dental Implants

Generally speaking, an implant is ideal if the patient is missing one or two teeth and the surrounding teeth are healthy and do not need crowns. To place a dental bridge in this situation would require reduction of the uncompromised teeth adjacent to the edentulous site, which risks making a one-tooth problem into a three-tooth problem. 

What does this mean? First, shaving down perfectly good teeth for any reason is not dentally ideal. Furthermore, it creates a lifelong concern for those shaved-down teeth. If either of the anchoring teeth ever become decayed, the entire bridge will need to be replaced (hence the reason we mentioned it could turn into a three-tooth problem). 

Another dental implant benefit is that it is not susceptible to dry mouth or tooth decay, whereas a dental bridge is very susceptible to both of these conditions. Patients with dry mouth are at a severe risk of tooth decay already, so this is an important factor to consider. An implant is also the only option if there are no teeth around the edentulous site to act as anchors for a bridge.

When To Opt for a Dental Bridge

Despite its many benefits, an implant is not always the ideal solution to replace a missing tooth. For example, if the teeth around the missing tooth’s site are already compromised and need crowns anyway, then placing a bridge can be an excellent choice (though a patient could still opt to crown the adjacent teeth individually and place an implant between them). Sometimes an implant is not an option at all, as in cases where there is severe bone loss and thus insufficient bone to support grafting and an implant. 

What is the cost difference between a dental implant and bridge?

The initial investment for an implant is greater than that of a bridge. However, over the course of a patient’s lifetime, he or she can expect to spend three times the cost of the implant if they go with a bridge. How? Having to replace the bridge due to decay on the teeth beneath it is a foreseeable reality. Bridges rarely last a lifetime, whereas an implant is classified a “lifetime restoration.” 

A dentist can only replace a bridge so many times before a root canal is necessary. This is because each time cavities form beneath a bridge, the dentist must take the bridge off, remove the compromised tooth structure, and then remake the bridge. By about the third time, enough tooth structure will have been removed to expose the nerve.

Once this happens, the tooth involved will need a root canal to keep the patient out of pain. Eventually, the anchoring teeth may become nonrestorable. When this happens, there is the added expense of extractions and either dental implants or a removable partial denture.

The Bottom Line

The cost of having a bridge redone and the potential for root canals adds up over the lifetime of the patient, whereas the cost of the implant isn’t a factor after the initial investment. An implant looks like and functions as if it were a stand-alone tooth. This makes it easier to brush and floss and requires no additional adaptations to one’s hygiene routine. The added benefit of bone preservation and the fact that it will not fail due to tooth decay make the implant the preferred option among both dentists and patients.

If you need to replace a missing tooth, schedule an evaluation with us today to find out whether an implant or bridge is right for you.

Written by Dr. Christopher King

Dr. King has been leading King Dental since 2000. In the 20-plus years since opening King Dental, his experiences have only strengthened his excitement for his chosen career. Dentistry is Dr. King’s life’s mission.

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