Flippers vs. Implants: Which Is Right for You?
Eating becomes more difficult, and a gap in your teeth can make you withhold your smile.
Replacement options for a missing tooth can help you eat more comfortably, speak clearer, improve overall oral health, and smile more confidently. Depending on your age and specific dental needs, there are many permanent and semi-permanent options available to fix your missing tooth.
Dental flippers and dental implants are both common alternatives for missing teeth. But how do you know which is right for you: dental flippers or dental implants?
What Is a Dental Flipper?
A dental flipper is a removable partial denture that dentists or oral surgeons may use as a temporary replacement if you have one or more missing teeth.
Dental flippers are made from denture acrylic that resembles your gums, and it supports the replacement tooth.
Depending on how many teeth are missing, a dental flipper may have clasps like a retainer to hold it in place around your existing teeth.1
What are the Benefits of Dental Flippers?
- Improved appearance: Fills in the gaps where your teeth are missing so you don’t have a visible gap or missing tooth.
- Prepare in advance: If your dentist needs to extract your tooth because of damage or disease, a dental flipper can be made before your tooth is removed.
- Easier to eat: Allows you to chew food more easily with a missing tooth or teeth.
- Stability for your teeth: Keeps the teeth around the gap in place, which prevents your other teeth from shifting.
- Convenient: Simple to wear and can easily be taken out of your mouth for nightly cleaning.
- Comfort and look: Some believe dental flippers to be more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing than other temporary alternatives, such as cast partials made of metal.
- Affordable: Dental flippers are cheaper than many other dental alternatives.
- Easy to make: You can get your dental flippers made quickly, often within a day or two.
If you are ready for an implant but are waiting for the site to heal, either after tooth extraction or after a bone or tissue graft, a dental flipper can be a good temporary fixture during this time. Healing can sometimes take up to six months.
If you’re too young for permanent implants, your dentist gives you a flipper as a semi-permanent alternative for your missing teeth. Your jawbone must be finished growing before you can get an implant, so kids who lose permanent teeth often use flippers until they turn 17 or 18 years old and can get implants.
Can You Eat With a Dental Flipper?
Yes, you can eat with a dental flipper. One of the benefits of dental flippers is that you can eat and chew more comfortably than you could with gaps from missing teeth.
How Long Can You Wear a Dental Flipper?
Dental flippers are intended to be worn temporarily, while you wait for your gums to heal before getting an implant. But some people choose to wear flippers indefinitely, either because of the low cost or because they’re lightweight and easy to adjust to.
For kids with missing teeth who are younger than 17, a flipper may be a long-term solution until they’re old enough to get implants. However, dental flippers are prone to breaking easily, and require regular care to keep them clean and to protect your other teeth and gums.
What's the Best Way to Clean Dental Flippers?
Remove your flippers at night and scrub them gently with water or toothpaste, then soak them overnight in a glass with an antifungal and antibacterial denture tablet. You can put your clean flippers back in your mouth in the morning.
Visit your dentist twice a year to closely monitor your dental flipper and adjust it if it becomes loose.
How Much Do Dental Flippers Cost?
Flipper teeth typically cost between $300 and $500, depending on the number of teeth you need to replace and the materials used.
For example, a flipper with wire clasps to hold it in place is usually more expensive.
Tip: If you lose another tooth, you can have your existing flipper altered instead of paying to for a new one.
A dental flipper may fall under the category of partial dentures with your dental insurance policy. Be sure to talk to your policy carrier to see if dental flippers are covered in your dental plan.
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What Are the Drawbacks of Dental Flippers?
Though dental flippers are cheaper and quicker to make than other dental alternatives, there are cons to flippers for patients to consider:
- Lightweight material means flippers might break easily.
- Design of flippers covers your gums so saliva cannot clean your gums properly.
- If not properly cared for, flippers can contribute to increased risk of gum disease and tooth decay.
- Flippers need to grip your existing teeth to work properly, but this grip can quickly loosen.
What Are Pageant Flippers?
Unlike dental flippers, pageant flipper teeth are false teeth typically worn in beauty pageants and similar events to hide imperfections. These types of flippers are much cheaper and are for cosmetic purposes only. Pageant flippers are not medical solutions for missing teeth.
Are There Dental Flipper Alternatives?
Metal Removable Partial Dentures
- Made with a metal framework and gum-colored plastic or acrylic.
- Metal framework goes across the roof of your mouth or around the back of your lower teeth and hooks onto your remaining teeth, like a flipper.
- More stable than flippers, though still removable.
- Sometimes the metal framework shows, which is not aesthetically preferable.
- A bridge is a series of crowns fixed together and held in place by the teeth adjacent to any gap.
- A bridge is fixed in the mouth.
- Relies on adjacent anchoring teeth to be functional.
- A popular permanent solution for missing teeth for adults over 18.
What Are Dental Implants?
Dental implants are metal posts or frames that are surgically implanted into your jawbone to work like permanent replacement tooth roots.
The dental implant fuses with your natural bone, which provides a stable base for your removable replacement teeth. Your replacement teeth are then mounted onto the posts.2
There are two types of dental implants
- Endosteal dental implants - These dental implants are placed under the gum and directly in the jawbone, which eventually fuses with your natural bone. This is the most common type of implant.
- Subperiosteal dental implants - Subperiosteal implants are placed beneath the gum and above or on top of the jawbone. These are best for patients with shallow jawbones that can’t support Endosteal implants.3
What's Involved in Getting a Dental Implant?
Dental implants can be installed in a single or double-stage procedure:
- Double-Stage Procedure - Endosteal implants are installed in two stages. The first surgery secures the implant into the jawbone. A few months later, the dentist or dental surgeon performs another minor surgery to attach an abutment, which is the supporting piece to secure your bridge or crown.
- Single-Stage Procedure - Subperiosteal implants are installed in one stage. The implant is surgically placed on top of the jawbone, leaving the implant head visible once the gum around the area heals. The supporting abutment and bridge or crown is then attached several months after your gum has healed, without any additional surgery.
How Much Do Dental Implants Cost?
If you lost your tooth because of an accident or disease, your insurance policy may assist with some of the cost of an implant. Contact your insurance provider to find out which aspect of your implant procedure may be covered.
What Are the Benefits of Dental Implants?
- Natural look: Dental implants look and feel like your real teeth, so it’s a smile that you can feel comfortable showing.
- Improved speech: Loose dentures or flippers can slip in your mouth and cause you to mumble. Dental implants are fixed in your jaw so you don’t have to worry about slipping teeth.
- Comfort: Implants feel like your real teeth. You don’t have to adjust to the bulkiness of dentures or deal with flippers loosening or slipping.
- Easy to eat with: Dental implants feel and function like your own teeth, which makes eating more natural.
- Good for your teeth: Your nearby teeth are not altered to support your implant (unlike a bridge, where nearby teeth are reduced). More of your own teeth are left intact, which improves overall oral health.
- And your gums: Your gums are not covered (like they are with flippers), which means less chance for bacteria build-up and tooth decay
- Durability: Unlike flippers, which can break easily, dental implants are sturdy and permanent.
- Convenience: You never need to remove your dental implants, whereas you remove flippers and dentures and place them in cleaning solution nightly.4
What Are the Cons of Dental Implants?
Not everyone can get dental implants. The jawbone must be fully developed to support a dental implant, so the patient must be older than 17 or 18. Plus, the jawbone must be sturdy enough to support an Endosteal implant, which is implanted directly into the jawbone.
The full price of an implant is not always covered by dental insurance plans, so they may be more expensive than flippers or removable partial dentures.
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1. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/dentures-partial (Last accessed September 2019)
2. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/i/implants (Last accessed September 2019)
3. https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/cosmetic-dentistry/implants/what-are-dental-implants (Last accessed September 2019)
4. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/ADA_PatientSmart_Implants.ashx (Last accessed September 2019)
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