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What’s the difference between a bridge and an implant?

Dentist explaining x-ray to senior couple

Despite your best efforts, there may come a time when you need to have one or more teeth replaced. Will you go with a bridge or implant? Both options have a long and reliable history as teeth replacements, but there are differences to consider.

How does an implant work?

An implant is an “anchor” surgically inserted into the jawbone that serves as a stable base for an artificial replacement tooth.

Implant surgery is a three-step process performed in your dentist’s office that can take five to nine months or longer, depending on the length of your healing process between the steps.

What are the pros of an implant?

  • No impact on other teeth. Implants can replace teeth individually, and surrounding teeth are not affected.
  • Durability. Implants can last 10 to 15 years because the implant's metal root, typically made of titanium, naturally fuses with your jawbone.
  • Prevents bone loss. Missing a tooth can speed up bone loss. An implant serves as a substitute tooth root and helps preserve jaw structure.

What are the cons of an implant?

  • Requires surgery. Because an implant is inserted into your jawbone, it is a surgical procedure.
  • Time. After the implant is placed, bone will develop around it, which generally takes three to six months. In the second step, a post is attached, and the surrounding gum tissue then needs to heal, which takes several more months. Since everyone heals at a different rate, some people may need a longer recovery time than others.
  • Expense. Not all dental plans cover implants, and because it is a multi-step process, it is also more expensive.

How does a bridge work?

  1. There are several types of bridges. A traditional bridge consists of two crowns with an artificial tooth in the middle that replaces the missing tooth. The crowns and artificial tooth can be made of gold, alloys, porcelain and/or a combination of materials and are made in a laboratory as one piece.
  2. The teeth on either side of the artificial tooth are shaped (filed) by the dentist in order to place crowns on them.
  3. The dentist cements the bridge into the mouth.

What are the pros of getting a bridge?

  • You don’t have to remove it. A bridge doesn’t have to be removed for cleaning because it’s cemented to your adjacent teeth. You can clean the bridge while cleaning your other teeth.
  • It’s a faster process. Getting a bridge can usually be done within two dental visits, although this can vary depending on your oral health.
  • Faster adjustment period. Because it’s small and lightweight, a bridge takes less time to get used to compared to other prosthetic options like a denture.

What are the cons of getting a bridge?

  • Harder to brush and floss. With a bridge, you must brush and floss under the false tooth. You will probably use slightly different materials – like a floss threader – that you may not be accustomed to.
  • Shorter lifespan. A dental bridge typically lasts about 10 years because of the wear and tear on neighboring teeth, which remain susceptible to gum disease and decay. (Their decay means less support for the bridge.)
  • Impact on nearby teeth. A bridge requires support from the neighboring teeth that are used to hold the artificial tooth in place. If these teeth aren’t strong enough to have crowns, a bridge might not be possible.

Are there other considerations?

Getting a bridge can be a better option if your tooth has been missing for a long time, because gum and bone have already receded, and your jaw may not be able to properly secure an implant. If you lack enough healthy bone to support an implant, you may be able to get a bone graft to enable the jawbone to hold an implant. Keep in mind this procedure will require additional time and cost.

What about the cost difference?

A bridge is generally less expensive than an implant when you look at the up-front costs. As with any major procedure, find out what your dental plan covers – many plans will pay for a bridge but not an implant. Ask your dentist to submit a pre-treatment estimate to us so you’ll know your out-of-pocket costs in advance.

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Published: July 2018

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.