A missing tooth can be a source of embarrassment, especially if it's in a highly visible location. However, a missing tooth isn't only a cosmetic problem — it can significantly impact your oral health. The empty socket acts as a space in which food particles and bacteria can hide, contributing to future gum disease. Replacing your missing tooth is important to protect your gums and the rest of your teeth.
Options for replacing a missing tooth include dental implants and dental bridges. An implant is a durable crown attached to a metal rod that's secured to your natural jawbone. A dental bridge is a whole set of three ceramic replacement teeth. The set is firmly attached to the two teeth on either side of your missing tooth, which fills in the missing space. While both methods will restore your missing tooth, there are significant differences between the two approaches. Here's what you should consider when determining whether a dental implant or a bridge would be the most suitable choice for replacing your missing tooth.
1. Bone Health: Implants Require a Healthy Jaw for Support
Because a dental implant is secured to your jawbone, the bone needs to be healthy and strong in order to support the implant. When you schedule an appointment with a dentist for implants, he or she will take X-rays of your mouth to check the condition of your jawbone. If you have been missing your tooth for a long period of time, the jawbone underneath the missing tooth will become weaker — when no force from chewing is exerted on your jawbone, your body begins to slowly absorb it. If your jaw isn't strong enough to support a dental implant, you can either opt for a dental bridge instead of an implant or an oral surgeon can graft bone from elsewhere in your body to your jaw in order to strengthen it.
2. Oral Health: Bridges Need Strong Teeth for Attachment
When you replace a missing tooth with a dental bridge, it needs to be securely adhered to crowns placed on the two teeth adjacent to your missing tooth. In order to place crowns on the adjacent teeth, a portion of their enamel and dentin will be removed — this both provides space for the crowns and provides an even surface for the crowns to adhere to. If the teeth adjacent to your missing tooth are in poor health, they may not be good candidates for crowns. This is because removing enamel and dentin can further weaken the teeth and make them more likely to fall out, especially if their roots have been damaged by oral disease. In this case, opting for a dental implant to replace your missing tooth is a much better choice, as an implant won't weaken the adjacent teeth.
3. Age: Implants Have Better Longevity Than Bridges
Dental implants are very durable and are likely to last for a lifetime with good oral hygiene. Ceramic bridges, on the other hand, do not last nearly as long — they're prone to cracking or detaching from your natural teeth as the adhesive wears away. When your bridge cracks or becomes loose, it will need to be replaced. If you're young, this should be a serious consideration when weighing your decision between replacing your tooth with an implant versus replacing it with a dental bridge. It's possible that you will have to replace the bridge multiple times over the course of your life, which can make it a more expensive option in the long term compared to an implant.
Overall, dental implants are often a better choice to replace a missing tooth when compared to a bridge — they last longer and they don't require any enamel or dentin from your natural teeth to be removed, which helps to maintain your overall dental health. Additionally, procedures such as bone grafting can aid those with poor bone health to strengthen the underlying bone to the point where it will be ready for an implant. While a dental bridge is a less expensive option, it may end up costing you more money in the long run if you need to have it replaced. If you're interested in using a dental implant to replace your missing tooth, schedule an appointment with a dentist to have the health of your underlying jawbone surveyed and for an explanation of your options.