The two best options for replacing a missing tooth are a dental implant or a bridge. Let’s start by briefly describing what each option entails. If you look at the illustration below, tooth “a” is on one side of the missing tooth (site “b”) and tooth “c” is on the other side.
A bridge involves removing tooth structure on teeth “a” and “c” so that there is room for a ceramic material which will replicate their original contours and esthetics. The ceramic replacing teeth “a” and “c” will be connected by a floating crown which will complete the bridge. As shown in the illustration below, the three unit bridge will be permanently cemented over top teeth “a” and “c” and will replace the missing tooth at site “b”.
An implant involves placement of a titanium screw into the jawbone which after it heals functions very similar to the root of a natural tooth. A crown is then built on top of the implant and the final result looks something like the illustration below. An implant at site “b” has no impact on teeth “a” or “c”.
So now that you understand the basic structure of a dental implant and a bridge let’s talk about the benefits of each.
Benefits of a Bridge:
- Faster turnaround time: A bridge can be completed within a 3-4 week timeframe over two visits.
- No surgery: Some people are at a higher risk of complications with surgery given their health or age; no surgery is required in the placement of a bridge.
- Lower up front cost: If you are to compare the total cost of a bridge to the total cost of an implant, most of the time the bridge will be less expensive up front.
Benefits of a Dental Implant:
- Independence from neighboring teeth: A bridge permanently connects at least two teeth; if a single tooth in a bridge becomes a problem, the entire bridge is at risk for failure.
- More hygienic: Cleaning around an implant is very similar to cleaning around a natural tooth. You will not need any additional tools to ensure you are maintaining the site well. Cleaning around a bridge is more challenging because the teeth are connected. You will need to thread a piece of floss under the bridge every day when you clean it.
- Improved force distribution: Since a dental implant replaces the root of a tooth, the forces put on the implant crown are absorbed in a more favorable manner in comparison with a three tooth bridge that only has two teeth for support.
- Lower long term cost: Involving neighboring teeth in the form of a bridge has long term consequences that are often overlooked. Nothing is better than a completely natural tooth; every time we remove more natural tooth structure the tooth is worse off in the long run. If we are completing a bridge on teeth that would not otherwise need treatment, we are subjecting them to a shortened life cycle that will inevitably need re-treatment at some point in the future. Due to the fact that an implant is independent from the neighboring teeth, it does not subject the neighboring teeth to treatment that may shorten their overall life span and therefore an implant will be less expensive in the long term.