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Dental bridge vs. implant: what’s the difference?

When it comes to restoring missing teeth, dental bridges, and implants are two common options that offer effective solutions. But that’s where the similarities end; the two are very different in terms of process, materials, cost, and more. So how should you choose which is right for you? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the features, pros, and cons of dental bridges and implants to help you make an informed choice.

What is a dental bridge?

A dental bridge is a fixed dental restoration used to replace one or more missing teeth by spanning the gap between two adjacent teeth. This configuration can vary depending on the type of bridge:

  • Traditional fixed bridges consist of a crown on either side of the gap / missing tooth; the crowns are attached to the artificial tooth—known as a pontic—in the middle that will fill in for the missing tooth.
  • Resin-bonded bridges, usually best for front teeth, consist of a pontic with a winged extension that affixes to the back of the adjacent tooth to hold the artificial tooth in place. 
  • Cantilever bridges consist of just a single crown with an affixed pontic.

Like dental crowns, dental bridges are typically made from porcelain, porcelain-fused-to-metal, ceramic, or metal alloys. Learn more about bridges here

What is a dental implant?

Dental implants are artificial teeth that consist of a post—usually made of titanium—that fuses with the patient’s jaw bone through a process called osseointegration. After the post is fused to the bone, dentists screw an abutment onto the post, which serves as the base for the final element—a dental crown. Implants are a long-term solution for missing teeth that closely resemble natural teeth in both appearance and function.

What are the pros and cons of an implant vs. a bridge?

Dental bridges and implants come with their own set of pros and cons. Your choice will largely depend on which of these is the highest priority to you.

Dental bridge pros

  • Dental bridges are generally less invasive than dental implants because they do not require surgery for placement.
  • Dental bridges are much more cost-effective than implants, making them a better choice for budget-conscious patients.
  • The process of getting a dental bridge is relatively quick and straightforward, with minimal downtime for recovery.

Dental bridge cons

  • Dental bridges require the support of adjacent teeth, which must be healthy and strong enough to support the bridge. If the adjacent teeth are missing or weakened, a bridge might not be an option.
  • In order to support the pontic, the adjacent teeth must be drilled down to fit the crowns on top. This can weaken teeth and make them more susceptible to decay and damage in the long run. 
  • Dental bridges may need to be replaced every 5-15 years, depending on factors such as oral hygiene habits and wear and tear. If surrounding teeth sustain decay or damage over time, there may be a need for extraction and implants.

Dental implant pros

  • Dental implants offer a permanent solution for missing teeth, with the potential to last a lifetime with proper care.
  • Implants stimulate the jawbone, preventing bone loss and preserving facial structure and appearance.
  • Implants do not rely on adjacent teeth for support, so they preserve the integrity of the surrounding teeth.

Dental implant cons

  • Implant placement requires oral surgery, which carries some risks and may involve a longer recovery period.
  • Dental implants tend to be more expensive upfront compared to bridges, although they offer a longer life and other benefits that may justify the investment.
  • The process of getting dental implants involves multiple steps and can take several months to complete, including healing time for osseointegration. For this reason, the implant process can sometimes be more painful than getting a bridge. 

The process of getting a dental bridge

The process of getting a dental bridge vs an implant is typically faster and with fewer steps. 

  1. Tooth preparation. After your initial consultation and upon deciding on a bridge, your dentist will first prepare the adjacent teeth. This requires removing a portion of enamel to accommodate the crowns that are affixed to either side of the pontic. 
  2. Impressions. Next, your dentist will take impressions or scans of the prepared teeth and surrounding structures to create a custom bridge in a dental laboratory or, if they have the equipment, in-house. 
  3. Bridge placement. If your dentist has the technology to create your bridge in-house (with a milling machine or 3D printer), your bridge can be made and cemented in place in the same appointment. If the work needs to be sent to an outside lab, your dentist will place a temporary bridge while the permanent bridge is being fabricated.

The process of getting an implant

After deciding on an implant vs. a bridge, you’ll undergo a much different process that involves surgical steps:

  • Bone grafting. In the case that there is not enough bone or the bone is too weak, your oral surgeon may have to add bone grafts. After that, you’ll wait for the bone grafts to adhere. 
  • Implant placement. Your dentist or oral surgeon will surgically place the titanium post into the jawbone, where it integrates with the surrounding bone over several months. During this time, the implant undergoes a process called osseointegration, during which it fuses with the jawbone.
  • Abutment placement. Once osseointegration is complete, an abutment is screwed onto the implant, which serves as a connector for the prosthetic tooth.
  • Crown placement. Finally, a custom-made crown is placed on top of the abutment, completing the restoration and restoring function and appearance.

How long do implants vs. bridges last?

Like crowns and fillings, the lifespan of dental bridges varies depending on factors such as oral hygiene habits, diet, and the materials used. On average, dental bridges can last anywhere from 5 to 15 years before needing replacement.

Implants, on the other hand, can last a lifetime with proper care and maintenance. The crown may need to be replaced eventually due to wear and tear, but the core elements of the abutment and implant post will stand the test of time.

Bridge vs. implant cost

The cost of dental bridges and implants varies depending on factors such as the number of teeth being replaced, the materials used, and the geographic location of the dental practice. But in general, implants will almost always be more expensive upfront. It’s important, however, to consider that bridges will incur additional costs over time for maintenance and replacement. So all in all, the costs can end up being the same or even more with a bridge. 

How to choose—implant vs. bridge? 

When choosing between dental bridges and implants, it’s essential to consider factors such as oral health, budget, and personal preferences. Consulting with a qualified dentist is crucial for evaluating your individual needs and determining the most suitable treatment option. At Smiley Dental, we can provide personalized recommendations and guidance to help you make an informed decision on a bridge vs. an implant. Contact us today to schedule an appointment! 


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