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Both dental bridges and dental implants are used to replace missing teeth. Figuring out which one is the right choice for you depends on the state of your teeth, your dentist’s advice, and the cost differences between implants and bridges, among other factors. Both bridges and implants are typically considered major dental services that would be performed by an oral surgeon so you may need to consult with an oral surgeon after seeing your dentist if your dentist isn’t a trained oral surgeon. Check to see if your dental insurance network includes specialists like oral surgeons as well as general dentistry providers.
Before you can decide dental bridge vs implant you need to know what both of these dental appliances are and how they are typically used¹. A dental bridge consists of a false tooth or teeth that are permanently attached to the teeth on either side of the space. The false tooth replaces the missing tooth. Much like a bridge over a river, the false tooth “bridges” across the space left by the missing tooth and is held in place by the natural teeth on either side of the gap, called abutments.
An implant is like a false root that the dentist places into the jaw bone where the natural tooth was removed. Over a few weeks’ time, the bone and gums grow around and through the implant, anchoring it in place, just like the root of the tooth that was removed. Your dentist then places a crown over the top of the implant that functions like a natural tooth².
Both dental bridges and implants typically can replace one or more teeth. They are both cemented permanently into your mouth and do not come in and out like a partial or removable denture. Your overall health and the strength of the remaining teeth and bone factor into the decision of whether bridges or implants may meet your needs.
There is a big difference in the dental bridge vs implant cost. Recent data showed that a bridge containing two false teeth cost anywhere from $1,700 to $3,500. And the cost of two implants usually starts at around $3,500 depending on the materials used, where you live, and other factors³.
Cost isn’t the only factor in the dental bridge vs implant debate but it is part of the debate since dental insurance typically do not cover the total cost of either dental bridges or implants. Some dental insurance plans will cover one or the other but not both. Some will cover both but will only cover a portion of the costs. In most states, Guardian Direct® top-tier and mid-tier PPO dental insurance plans cover up to 50% of the cost of implants after a 12 month waiting period in most states. Remember to check your maximum benefit when you’re looking at major dental work like a dental bridge or implant. Getting a dental bridge or implant may put you at your maximum for the year.
Some common things that you should keep in mind when you’re considering a dental implant vs bridge include:
Dental bridges are typically a conventional treatment option with a long history of success for many patients
Typically, less expensive than implants
They can replace teeth in the front or in the back of your mouth
While most bridges replace one or two missing teeth that were located next to each other, some may replace multiple teeth
Your dentist can usually complete a bridge in two visits - one to prepare the abutment teeth and take impressions with a second visit to cement the bridge in place
Require filing down the abutments or healthy teeth on either side of the gap—these might be healthy, sound teeth. Filing the abutment teeth is necessary to attach the false tooth or teeth to them for stability⁵
May be difficult to clean - Food debris and bacteria may lodge under the false tooth, between the bridge and the gums. Special cleaning devices or water picks may be used daily to help avoid gum infections and unpleasant odors
Typically, do not require any treatments for the teeth on either side of the gap. Those teeth remain untouched
An implant is placed into the jawbone where the tooth root was removed⁵
If more than one tooth is missing, you may need several implants
You can brush and floss the crowns attached to implants just like a natural tooth
Implants typically cost more than bridges because of the surgery involved and the expense of the implants
Although the surgery to place the implant is usually completed in one visit, it may take several weeks or even months for enough healing to take place for the final crown to be placed
Some general dentists prefer to send patients to a specialist for the implant surgery and then have the patient return to them to have the crown placed.
Many patients who are missing several teeth may opt to have a combination of implants and bridges or full dentures. These have all the advantages of the stability of implants while allowing replacement of up to a full lower or upper set of teeth. If you are missing all or most of your upper or lower teeth, you can still take advantage of both these treatment options. Your dentist will be able to advise you what the options are and what is the best treatment based on your situation and how many teeth need to be replaced. X-rays and other diagnostic services may be needed in order to figure out what the best course of treatment is for you and those services may or may not be covered by your dental insurance. Check with your carrier to see what your dental insurance deductible would be and if those services are covered.
If you’re considering a mix of different dental appliances to help stabilize your remaining teeth and replace missing teeth make sure that you keep in mind what your maximum coverage amounts are if you are planning on having dental insurance pay for a portion of these appliances. Some dental insurance plans have a lifetime maximum that could leave you paying quite a bit out of pocket for dental appliances if you’re combining dentures, implants and bridges. It’s also a good idea to check what the waiting period for those services is so that you can plan ahead for each different type of procedure. Dental insurance coverage varies widely. It is always a good idea to speak with your dental insurance provider to review your coverage.
It’s common for the oral surgeon that is either putting in a dental implant bridge or performing bone grafts to take photos before the procedure and after. Not only will the photos be a good record of what your mouth looked like before the surgery and then after the surgery those photos can help the surgeon gauge how fast your mouth is healing. Dental photography may be done by a clinician or nurse at your oral surgeon’s office. Any staff member taking photos should be trained on how to use a high powered camera in order to capture clinical photos that will help chart your progress.
Clinical photography is especially important⁷ if you are having implants done because your mouth will need some time to heal after the initial dental grafts are done. During that time your teeth and gums may change and having photos of each stage of the healing process as well as a before photo showing what your teeth and gums looked like at the start will help the dentist to know if the treatment is going as expected.
Dentures are another typical type of dental appliance that can be used to replace missing teeth. If you are having trouble deciding on dental bridges vs implants you might want to discuss dentures with your dentist, depending on how many missing teeth you need to replace. To find out more about all of the options for replacing missing teeth and how to make an informed decision for your situation check out Guardian Direct® large library full of helpful articles. There are lots of resources there that will give you more information about bridges vs implants, teach you about dentures and flippers, and help you understand more about dental insurance and implants.
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https://www.healthline.com/health/dental-bridge (2018), last accessed October 2021
https://www.aaid-implant.org/dental-implants/what-are-dental-implants, last accessed October 2021
https://health.costhelper.com/dental-bridge.html, last accessed September 2021
https://www.healthline.com/health/implant-vs-bridge (January 2021), last accessed October 2021
https://www.aaid-implant.org/dental-implants/what-are-dental-implants, last accessed October 2021.
https://www.dentistry.com/topics/dental-implants/pros-and-cons-dental-implants,last accessed October 2021
Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.(exp.11/23)
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