So you are missing a tooth? Or, maybe you are you missing several teeth. Either way, missing one or more teeth can be a big problem. Not only does it look unattractive, missing teeth hinder proper eating, drinking, and speaking. Chances are you will want to replace the tooth as quickly as possible. As an oral surgeon, I am often asked, “What is the best option for tooth replacement?” There are two acceptable treatments: dental bridges and dental implants.
What is a dental bridge?
A dental bridge is a frame on which two crowns and a false tooth are attached. The benefits of getting a bridge include slightly less initial expense and possibly fewer dental appointments. Many patients are pleased with the outcome. However, in order to attach a dental bridge to the adjacent teeth, your dentist will have to grind down the healthy adjacent teeth and add crowns to secure the bridge. By doing this, your anchor teeth will become susceptible to decay, plaque accumulation, and periodontal disease causing possible future failure of the bridge. Also, the false tooth on top of the bridge sits above the gum. It doesn’t replace the root. Because of the lack of normal chewing forces, bone loss will occur. Although a dental bridge is slightly less expensive initially, its lifespan is between five and ten years. A replacement bridge will be inevitable.
What is a dental implant?
Dental implants are currently considered the best way to replace missing teeth. A dental implant is placed in the jaw to replace the missing tooth root. It acts as a base for a crown, a bridge or an entire dental prosthesis. It is the closest imitation of a real tooth. Among the many benefits of implants, one very important one is bone preservation. Without the chewing forces to the jaw, a patient will experience bone loss and ultimately lose his/her facial structure. Unlike with bridges, the adjacent teeth are left intact. There is no need to grind down adjacent teeth in order to adhere a crown and bridge. And most importantly, dental implants look and feel natural and comfortable.
Initially, a dental implant will be more expensive than a dental bridge. However, it is has been shown in many studies that an implant can last a lifetime. And, as dental implants become a more widely accepted solution, some insurance plans will cover a portion of the cost. (Check with your specific plan for more details.)
The bottom line is that you should replace your missing tooth. Whether you opt for a dental bridge for the sake of time and expense, or dental implant for the longevity and durability, it is my recommendation to do your research to find out what’s best for you. And, employ both your restorative (general) dentist and board-certified oral surgeon to complete your treatment plan. Without a doubt, this interdisciplinary approach will give you the best results.
Dr. M. James Clark is a board-certified oral surgeon specializing in wisdom teeth extractions, implant dentistry and the treatment of other conditions of the mouth, face and jaw. Dr. Clark practices at the Technology Forest office of Northwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.