As two of the most common (and best-tolerated) ways to replace missing teeth, these treatments are often given as options. But what are the differences when considering a dental bridge vs implant? What are their relative advantages and disadvantages? Let’s take a quick look at the various factors:
One involves drilling into your own tooth or teeth, the other does not
In order to place a bridge, we need to ‘prepare’ the adjacent teeth to hold it in place. This ‘preparing’ involves drilling away some of the tooth substance. Now, in some circumstances this is not harmful, e.g. the tooth that will hold the bridge already has a crown in place. But often there will be some damage to the enamel/dentin. Also, any disease or problems with a supporting tooth will result in damage to the bridgework in the future.
An implant carries no such concerns. It is completely independent of the natural teeth in that it requires no support, and hence no damage is done to them. This is a major advantage of an implant vs bridge.
Implants help retain jawbone structure
Once a tooth is extracted or lost, the bone that used to hold it in place resorbs (shrinks) away. If there are several missing teeth, this may result in a visible change in the shape of the mouth. This is an unfortunate consequence of tooth loss, and one that can really ‘age’ a person. A great benefit of a implants is that they can help maintain the bone structure. As alluded to here, a bone graft may first be needed, but once the metal settles, the bone will be preserved. Therefore the jaw shape will remain fuller and more natural. A dental bridge has no such benefits with regards to bone preservation. So again, implants have this key advantage.
Implants are the more expensive of the two when compared in similar circumstances. However, over the course of one’s lifetime, the former may prove to be more cost-effective. This is because implants tend to last much longer…
The life expectancy of bridgework is less than that of implants. There are more things that can go wrong with bridges, as they are (in general) not held as securely in place. Tooth decay, for example can destroy a tooth that holds the bridgework, whereas an implant is immune to decay. However both can be damaged by gum disease, so you need to maintain excellent oral hygiene regardless.
Getting bridgework holds the advantage here. The implant procedure involves a minor degree of surgery in the jaw bone (and possibly further afield if a graft is needed). So the treatment is more involved, includes a longer healing time and surgery that may put some people off.
Number of visits and treatment time
The implant procedure often involves multiple stages over a course of six months or more. A temporary denture may be needed to be worn in this time. Although a bridge may involve a delay (to allow the bone to heal after extraction) the treatment time frame is usually a quicker one. But note again that further treatment is often needed down the line with bridgework, whereas implants can last for life.
As you have read, there are lots of factors to consider when comparing a dental bridge vs implant treatment. There is little doubt, that from a purely dental health point of view, an implant is generally better for the reasons outlines. But the downsides of cost and the surgical procedure may be enough to put some people off these and opt for a bridge instead.
This video explains the benefits of implants in terms of longevity