If you are in need of restorative dental work due to extensive tooth decay or need to replace a lost tooth, then you may be considering which restorative dental option is best. In the past, the treatment of choice for tooth loss was a bridge. With newer and more advanced dental treatment methods now available to patients, the preferred treatment of choice for tooth loss is now dental implants for many patients.
A bridge takes care of the problem of missing teeth by covering the area where the missing tooth used to reside with a dental crown that is affixed to the surrounding teeth. The two teeth surrounding the open space are ground down and a crown is placed over both teeth. Then, as the name implies, a bridge is formed across the open space between the two teeth that anchors an additional crown in the open space where the tooth no longer resides to replace the missing tooth. The bridge and crowns are permanently secured in the mouth but are not a permanent solution to the problem.
Dental implants solve the problem of tooth loss with a different and more permanent procedure. A dental implant involves a process in which a small titanium screw is surgically inserted, or implanted, into the supporting bone structure. The procedure itself is rather short, usually under an hour long, and is done under local anesthesia. Once the screw has become firmly attached to the bone and is healed, which usually takes about eight weeks, an abutment is attached to the implant, which is a small fake tooth. A crown is then placed over the abutment to replace the missing tooth. Dental implants are a permanent solution for lost teeth and do not need to be replaced over time.
If you are deciding between the two procedures to see which is right for you, here are a few factors to consider.
Look and feel: A dental implant looks and feels like your natural tooth is still in place. Once the procedure is completed and the implant has healed, there is no difference in how the tooth looks or feels compared to the original tooth. Most bridges will also look natural, since the teeth are all crowned, but may be more uncomfortable over time, due to the fact that three teeth are secured to each other and function as one unit.
Cleaning and maintenance: When a patient opts for a dental implant, their dental cleaning and maintenance regimen is primarily the same as it was before. Teeth need to be cleaned, brushed, and flossed as usual to prevent decay and tartar buildup and to keep gums healthy. Bridges, on the other hand, require a far more extensive process of cleaning and maintenance. The area under the bridge and between each of the crowns must thoroughly be cleaned and flossed on a regular basis. Failure to do so can result in underlying bone loss and gum disease. The process of keeping the area under and around a bridge clean is a somewhat difficult one and many patients experience problems over time due to inadequate cleaning and maintenance near their bridge work.
Longevity: Dental implants are a permanent solution to tooth loss. Once the implant is firmly attached to the bone, a crown is placed over the implant and it remains there permanently. Bridges are permanently affixed, but are not a permanent solution for tooth loss. Since in a bridge, the area of the missing tooth that is covered by a crown is attached to the surrounding teeth, any problems that arise with the surrounding teeth may result in the entire bridge being removed and reworked. Other problems, such as gum and bone problems that result from improper cleaning and maintenance can lead to additional problems. Finally, since a bridge spans multiple teeth, there is the greater potential for breakage or problems due to shifts in a patients bite or other causes.
Cost: The cost of a dental implant is about thirty percent more than that for a bridge initially. But, over the long term, dental implants are a more economical solution since they do not require replacement and are less likely to result in additional problems to gums and underlying bone.
Length of procedure: The actual length of the procedure for a dental implant and a bridge are about the same, but it takes longer to have the dental implant completed than a bridge due to the time that must elapse while the implant takes hold in the bone. A bridge can generally be completed in two visits – one to prepare the teeth and take molds and the other to permanently affix the crowns and bridge. Insertion of a dental implant typically takes less than an hours time, but the patient must wait for the area to heal and the bone to fully adhere to the implant before a crown is placed over it and this usually takes about eight weeks.
Who is a candidate: Not everyone is a candidate for dental implants. A patient must have a healthy underlying bone structure in order to support an implant. It is also important that the surrounding gums be healthy, although this is true for bridges as well. To determine whether you are a candidate for dental implants, it is best to see your dentist. There are sometimes additional procedures that can make even those with not enough bone structure candidates for a dental implant procedure.
It is best to check with your dentist or periodontist to determine your oral and general health and to weigh the pros and cons of each restorative dental treatment so that you can decide which treatment option is best for you.