Dental Bridges vs Implants

erica medical reviewer
Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Michael Bayba
Written by
Michael Bayba
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Evidence Based
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Dental bridges and dental implants are two options to replace missing teeth. Tooth loss is one of the most common dental issues in the world.

“69% of adults ages 35 to 44 have lost at least one permanent tooth to an accident, gum disease, a failed root canal or tooth decay”.1

Current trends in dental implants

Tooth loss has many causes, including:

  • A poor oral health routine
  • Tooth decay
  • Injuries and accidents
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Certain diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension

If you have to get a tooth extracted, you’ll need extra care to make sure there are no further complications. Without proper treatment, you could experience infection, difficulty eating or speaking, or shifting in your remaining teeth.

Two of the most common treatment options to replace missing teeth are:

  • Dental bridges — false teeth that are held in place by the surrounding teeth.
  • Dental implants — false teeth attached to an artificial tooth root implanted into your jawbone

Both of these procedures can replace a missing tooth or teeth. However, they are quite different in terms of procedure and aftercare. Your dentist is your best source of information when deciding which treatment to choose. 

However, doing some research before choosing a tooth replacement procedure can help you understand each option's costs, benefits, and drawbacks. Read on to learn more about implants vs bridges and find out which one is right for you.

Dental Bridge Procedure, Cost, Pros & Cons

What is a Dental Bridge?

Dental bridges are semi-permanent replacements for a missing tooth or teeth. They are custom-made out of porcelain, ceramic, or plastic for each patient.

Bridges attach to abutment teeth (the teeth surrounding your missing tooth/teeth). Your dentist will remove a certain amount of tooth from the abutment teeth before placing the bridge. 

If your surrounding teeth are not strong enough to support a traditional bridge, you may need an alternative style of bridge, such as:

  • Cantilever bridges replace a missing tooth in the anterior region when there is only one adjacent supporting tooth.. They aren’t strong enough to support molars.
  • Maryland bridges, also known as adhesive bridges, are made of a fake tooth supported by metal frames attached to the teeth on either side of the missing tooth.
  • Implant supported bridges are set on dental implants. These are usually used on patients who have at least three missing molars in a row.

Dental Bridge Procedure

Dental bridges require two appointments:

During the first appointment, your dentist will prepare your abutment teeth. They will apply a local anesthetic to numb your mouth. Then they file down the abutment teeth to make room for the new crowns. Finally, they take an impression of your teeth and send it to the lab to create your bridge. They will place a temporary bridge for you to wear until your bridge is finished.

The second visit happens when your bridge is ready. First, your dentist will remove your temporary bridge and clean your teeth. Then they will place your new bridge and take x-rays to make sure it fits well. Finally, they will bond the bridge and teeth using special dental cement.

Dental bridge aftercare includes:

  • Rinsing with mouthwash often and brushing at least twice a day
  • Flossing your teeth regularly — you will need a special tool such as a water flosser, super floss, or floss threaders to clean under the bridge
  • Chewing on the opposite side of your mouth and avoiding chewy, sticky, or hard foods for at least 24 hours

Dental Bridge Cost

The cost of a dental bridge depends on the type chosen, the dental crown cost, and if you have insurance. Insurance can cover up to 50 percent of the total cost of a dental bridge.

Traditional or Cantilever Dental Bridge$2,000 to $5,000 — includes one pontic and two dental crowns
Maryland Dental Bridge$1,500 to $2,500 — includes one pontic and the framework
Implant-Supported Dental Bridge$2,500 to $6,500 — per implant
Pros of Dental Bridges
  • Quick procedure with no invasive surgery
  • Fast recovery time
  • Cheaper
Cons of Dental Bridges
  • Must be replaced every 5 to 10 years
  • Less natural looking
  • They are more likely to cause cavities, decay, and damage to surrounding teeth

Dental Implant Procedure, Cost, Pros & Cons

What is a Dental Implant?

A dental implant is a permanent tooth replacement option. They are made of three or four parts, including:

  • The implant, or fixture, is surgically placed and fuses with your jawbone
  • The abutment is the middle section that connects the implant to the crown or bridge
  • Screws may be used to attach the abutment to the implant or crown
  • A crown or bridge is attached to the top of the implant to mimic the look and function of a natural tooth

Dental Implant Types

There are several dental implant techniques for a variety of conditions.

Single Tooth Implant

Single implants replace a single missing tooth. They require one implant screw and one crown placed between your natural teeth.

jaw with teeth and dental molar implant

Implant-Supported Bridge

Implant-supported bridges are used to replace multiple teeth. The implants support a bridge that replaces the missing teeth. 

jaw and implants with dental bridge

Implant-Retained Dentures

Implant-retained dentures are a full arch replacement option. They provide more stability and less pressure on the gums than traditional dentures.

removable full implant denture

3-on-6 Dental Implants 

3-on-6 implants are an alternative to implant-supported dentures. They are three bridges set on top of six dental implants.

3 on 6 dental implants

All-on-4 Dental Implants

All-on-4 implants are a more permanent, natural-looking alternative to dentures. They replace your entire upper or lower arch (or both).

AdobeStock 203366795

Dental Implant Cost

Dental implants vary in cost depending on the type of procedure, number of teeth missing, your bone condition, and dental office location. 

There may be additional costs for bone grafts, the dental abutment, and the dental crown. This can cost up to $2,000. Dental insurance rarely covers dental implants because they are considered cosmetic procedures.

Here are approximate costs for the different types of implants:

Single Tooth Implant$3,000 to $4,000
Implant-Supported Bridge$5,000 to $16,000
Implant-Retained Dentures $12,000 to $30,000
3-on-6 Dental Implants$10,000 to $15,000
All-on-4 Dental Implants$15,000 to $20,000 (per arch)

Dental Implant Procedure

Dental implants are an outpatient procedure. Patients can return home at the end of surgery. However, the process may take months to complete. The longest part is waiting for the implant to heal before placing the crown, bridge, or denture.

Treatment length and steps will vary from case to case. This is the general procedure for most implants:

The first two steps are not always necessary. 

First, the dentist will remove the damaged tooth if it is still in your mouth. 

Second, if your jawbone is too thin, they will perform a bone graft to increase your bone strength. This will take several months to heal.

The third step is the implant surgery. The oral surgeon will cut open your gums, exposing your bone. They will then drill a hole in each place you need an implant. The implant screw is then placed deep in the bone. If your front tooth is being restored, they will place a temporary crown to fill the space.

Healing and growth is the fourth step. The incisions will heal and the implant will begin to fuse with the surrounding bone. This process is called osseointegration. This can take several months until the base is sturdy enough to support a crown.

Once healed, the fifth step is to place the abutment. This will connect the implant to the crown. The doctor will take impressions and send them to the lab to create your crown(s).

Once the crown is created, the final step is to place the crown. The crown sits on top of the abutment and is the only visible portion of the implant.

Implant aftercare consists of:

  • Antibiotics to prevent infection
  • Eating only soft foods during the healing process
  • Brushing and flossing twice a day and practice excellent oral health care 
  • Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco

Pros of Dental Implants
  • Most permanent solution available (crown may last 15 years)
  • Look more natural
  • Less damage to your surrounding teeth and jaw
  • 97 percent success rate after 10 years 2
Cons of Dental Implants
  • More expensive than bridges
  • Probably not covered by insurance
  • Longer healing process (up to six months)
  • Complications are rare but serious

Which is Right for You?

Choosing between a dental bridge or implant can seem like a difficult decision. The best option for you will depend on how many teeth you’re missing, the condition of your jawbone, your general health, and your budget.

Your dentist will give you the best advice when choosing between a dental bridge or implant. Here are some things to consider in your process:

If you’re missing multiple teeth in a row, a bridge may make more sense. For multiple missing teeth, multiple implants will need to be surgically placed. This is costly and invasive surgery.

If you’re in good overall health, implants are a more permanent and successful option long-term. However, if your health is poor, the healing process may be long and complicated.

If you’re in a hurry, a dental bridge can be placed in two visits. The implant procedure can take up to six months.

Dental bridges are cheaper upfront compared to implants. Dental insurance is also more likely to cover bridges than implants. 

Other Treatment Options

Implants and bridges aren’t the only treatment options for missing teeth. Your dentist may recommend the following options:

Partial Dentures

Partial dentures fill gaps from one or multiple missing teeth. They are usually made of plastic and metal. They clip onto your healthy teeth to stay in place.

Partial dentures may be used if your surrounding teeth are not strong enough to support a bridge. They are cheaper than implants or bridges but less stable and comfortable. They also need to be removed and clean and can potentially interfere with eating and speaking.

Removable partial dentures cost between $650 and $2,500 per set.

Dentures

Dentures are removable fake teeth that rest on your gums. They may be advisable if your jawbone isn’t strong enough to support implants.

A full set of dentures replaces all your teeth on your upper or lower jaw. They are made to look like your natural teeth. A dental bonding agent is used to hold them in place.

Dentures range in cost depending on whether you get low or high quality dentures. Dental insurance will often cover up to 50 percent of the procedure.

Low cost dentures cost $500 to $1,500 per denture ($1,000 to $3,000 for a complete set) before insurance.

High quality dentures cost $2,000 to $4,000 per denture ($4,000 to $8,000 for a complete set) before insurance.

Space Maintainers

Space maintainers are tools (usually made of metal) placed in the area where your tooth used to be. They prevent your other teeth from shifting.

Space maintainers are usually used for children to make sure adult teeth can erupt easily. They are also a low-cost ($200 to $400) alternative to bridges or implants. 

Takeaways

  • Dental implants are the longest-lasting tooth replacement option on the market
  • Dental bridges are a cheaper alternative
  • Dental implants have a lower risk for decay and cavities in surrounding teeth
  • The dental implant procedure can take up to six months, with several trips to the dentist or surgeon’s office
  • Dental bridges are completed in two visits a couple of weeks apart
  • Partial dentures, full dentures, and space maintainers are alternative treatments for missing teeth

Resources

(1) Gaviria, Laura et al. “Current trends in dental implants.” Journal of the Korean Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons vol. 40,2 (2014): 50-60. doi:10.5125/jkaoms.2014.40.2.50

(2) Gupta, Ranjan. “Dental Implants.” StatPearls., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 Aug. 2020.

(3) “Dental Implant Surgery | AAOMS.” AAOMS Official Site | Experts in Face, Mouth, and Jaw Surgery.

(4) Hollins, Carole. “Basic Guide to Dental Procedures.” John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

(5) Syrbu, John DDS. “The Complete Pre-Dental Guide to Modern Dentistry.” 2013.

(6) Misch, Carl E. “Dental Implant Prosthetics” - E-Book. Mosby, 2014.

(7) “Types of Implants and Techniques.” American Academy of Implant Dentistry.

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