Consumers have a lot of treatment options these days when it comes to dentistry. With the advancement of cosmetic and aesthetic dentistry, patients are virtually bombarded with options that can both dazzle and confuse. From procedures such as whitening and veneers, to implants and fixed dentures, the average consumer is left with questions and sometimes misconceptions.

An common question that I run into as a dentist is which is better: a dental implant or a dental bridge?

The answer is… it depends.

So you might be asking yourself, what is an implant, anyway? Implants replace teeth. They are usually made of titanium. They are small metal posts that resemble tooth roots that are implanted into the bone with the intent of supporting a fake tooth once the implant has healed and integrated with the bone. Healing can take 3-6 months, depending on a lot of different factors. An finished dental implant consists of 3 parts, 1) the implant itself, 2) an abutment or anchor for the fake tooth, and 3) the actual fake (prosthetic) tooth or crown. Once an implant has healed from being placed, it typically takes another 2-3 weeks to get the abutment and final crown in your mouth. For more information on dental implants, click here.

A bridge is a much simpler concept. Think of a bridge as individual crowns, all fused together. The neighbors of the missing tooth are prepped for crowns, and a bridge fits over them filling in the missing teeth. If the neighboring teeth are already crowned, a bridge can make more sense than an implant since there will be no additional tooth reduction needed for these teeth. A bridge is fabricated by a lab and takes 2 weeks to make. Bridges are cemented in your mouth permanently, and look like normal teeth with the exception being that you cannot floss in between the teeth. For more information on dental bridges, click here.

Patients are faced with making the decision between an implant or a bridge when ultimately they are losing a tooth due to unrestorability or have lost a tooth prior and have a space in their mouth. If it’s a terminal tooth that is missing (back tooth), and there is no posterior tooth to attach a bridge to, the bridge option is out. For all other sites, the question persists of which treatment to perform, implant or bridge.

In my own practice, teeth that are not restorable are often referred out to an oral surgeon specialist for extraction. The oral surgeon may recommend placing an implant in the site of the tooth that is going to be removed. If the patients agrees to go this route, then placing a bone graft into the site at the time of extraction is recommended. Even if the patient chooses to forgo the implant and go the bridge route, a bone graft can make the outcome more aesthetic and successful. Oral surgeons often favor implants over bridges and their influence can often sway a patient’s decision.

The fact is that dental implants require surgery and dental bridges don’t.

That factor alone can make dental implants the less desirable choice for those who have severe dental anxiety. The start to finish time is also relatively long, from 3 to 6 months, making it impractical for those with schedules that don’t allow that kind of delay. And not all sites in the mouth perform the same in terms of outcome success. In particular, upper teeth in the back often face a series of challenges most often due to the location of the sinus in the bone there.

So hopefully this article shines a little more light on the subject of dental implant vs dental bridge. There is not always a clear choice which makes one better than the other. It varies based on the individual patient and the site of the restoration, as well as what the patient wants and expects. Either way, replacing the tooth and restoring function is the ultimate goal, and both options do that very nicely in the end.