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Comparing Dental Implants and Dental Bridges

Not that long ago, if you lost a front tooth, your dentist would recommend grinding down the two adjacent teeth and using them as anchors for a three-tooth bridge.

Today, dentists offer an alternative that involves less collateral damage: a single-tooth implant.

According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, about 3 million people receive 5.5 million implants each year in the United States, which is growing by an additional 500,000 more patients each year.

Dental implants are similar to traditional crowns, in which the root of a damaged tooth is capped. But when there’s not enough left of the natural tooth to support a crown, an artificial root can be implanted to anchor the crown.

Inserting implants requires teamwork in an assembly that comprises three parts.

The implant itself is a titanium post that the oral surgeon screws into the jaw. After insertion, tissues in the jawbone grow onto the post, affixing themselves like barnacles in a process called osseointegration. This creates a more stable and secure anchor for the crown.

Next, either the dentist or oral surgeon places an abutment over the top of the implant. The abutment juts out from the gum line as tissue grows over it. Finally, a prosthodontist creates a permanent crown that the dentist attaches to the abutment.

“The amount of implants I’ve done over the past five years has increased significantly,” reports Dr. Paul Tiernan, who opened his private practice in Santa Rosa, California, in 1991. “In the first 15 years of my practice, I hated implants because the product was terrible, but they’ve since come out with a much better structural integrity on the implant.”

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According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, 69 percent of adults ages 35 to 44 have lost at least one permanent tooth to an accident, gum disease, a failed root canal or tooth decay, and the number of teeth adults typically lose increases with age.

Advantages of Dental Implants

  • Esthetic, functional, predictable, reliable
  • Does not affect adjacent teeth
  • Does not decay
  • Less likely to develop gum disease

Disadvantages of Dental Implants

  • More expensive
  • More planning time
  • Requires minor surgery
  • Requires healing time before permanent tooth replacement

Advantages of Bridges

  • Esthetic, functional, predictable, reliable
  • Less costly
  • Requires less time for the final result

Disadvantages of Bridges

  • Requires enamel removal of adjacent teeth
  • If adjacent teeth have crowns, they must be redone
  • Tooth decay is a potential problem
  • Root canal treatment may be required if nerves are affected