Implant or Bridge?
Deciding How to Replace Your Missing Tooth

Missing a tooth?  

A toothless smile on a baby is adorable. But on an adult, not so much. If you lost a tooth due to trauma or tooth decay, you know how embarrassing, and frustrating it can be. You might be self-conscious when you talk and even reflexively cover your mouth when you smile.

Consequences of a Missing Tooth

But a missing tooth is not like a bad hair day and just about appearance.  Even if you only have one missing tooth, and it’s not visible when you smile or talk, it can have a significant impact on your dental health. For example, when you have a tooth missing, the nearby teeth may drift towards the gap leading to shifting and misaligned teeth.

If shifting teeth are not enough to freak you out, your jawbone under the missing tooth can also start to wear away. Here’s what happens: although you don’t realize it, teeth make contact with each other all the time when you chew and talk. This contact provides stimulation to the jawbone. Without the stimulation, the jawbone can eventually deteriorate.

If enough bone is lost, it can affect the way you speak and even your appearance can change. Losing bone decreases support of your facial structures. Have you ever noticed that someone without teeth has a sunken-in or sagging facial appearance? A sagging facial appearance makes you look older than you are. Considering how much effort most of us put into looking younger, this is just somewhat counter productive.

Options: Bridges and Implants

Yikes! If all the effects of missing teeth sound like a big deal, it is. The moral of the story is if you have a lost tooth, now is the time to do something about it. Fortunately, when it comes to replacing missing teeth, you have options. Both bridges and dental implants are good choices to restore one or more missing teeth. But before you decide which procedure to go for, it’s important to understand what is involved with each.

A dental bridge is just like what it sounds; a replacement tooth that spans the gap or creates a bridge between two teeth. If you opt for a dental bridge, it typically consists of two crowns and a prosthetic tooth in the middle. The crowns are placed on the adjacent teeth to hold the bridge in place. Before the bridge is placed, the teeth on both sides of the missing tooth have to be shaped so the crowns can fit.

Back in the old days, the only way to restore missing teeth was dentures and bridges. But now dental implants are also an option.  A dental implant works somewhat differently than a bridge. An implant does not just replace the missing tooth, but also replaces the tooth root. So why does that matter? Replacing the root can prevent the breakdown of the jawbone, which is optimal.

The way it works is an incision is made in your gum and an implant post is surgically placed. Now don’t freak out. You’ll be numb during the surgery and won’t feel anything. The site is given time to heal so the implant can integrate into the jawbone. New bone cells grow on and around the implant, holding the post in place.

After the implant has integrated into the jawbone, a connecting piece, called an abutment, is attached to the post. Lastly, a prosthetic tooth is placed on the abutment. Implants can be used to replace one tooth, as well as a full set of teeth.

Pros and Cons of Implants and Bridges

As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to both implants and bridges.

Advantages of Implants

  • Implants can lasts a lifetime, with proper care
  • Implants are easy to clean around
  • Acts like your natural teeth and can prevent bone loss that often occurs if you don’t replace a missing tooth
  • Does not require any drilling of the adjacent teeth


  • Implants are often more costly than a dental bridge
  • Not everyone may be a candidate for the procedure
  • Dental bridge may need to be replaced at some point
  • Some people find a dental bridge a bit harder to clean around than an implant

Dental bridges don’t involve surgery, and can usually be completed quicker and usually cost less than implants.

How to Choose Between a Bridge and an Implant

So with two good options, how do you decide what’s right for you? At Sullivan and Carothers, DDS, our dentists will go over all the pros and cons of each procedure and answer any of your questions.

When you’re thinking it over, there are several things you may want to consider.

  • What are your time constraints? The implant process often takes longer than a bridge. Once the implant is placed, you have to allow time for the bone to integrate with the implant.  This ensures long term success.
  • The health of the adjacent teeth. This may also play a role in your choice. If you opt for a dental bridge, the teeth on both sides of the missing tooth need to be strong enough to support the bridge. Some people don’t want to involve the neighboring teeth, which may make them lean towards an implant.
  • The amount of bone available for an implant. If your tooth has been missing for a while, some bone loss may have started. But in some instances, procedures, such as a bone graft, may be performed so the implant can be completed.

Remember, when it comes to choosing between a dental bridge and an implant, there is usually no right or wrong choice. What it often comes down to is your circumstances and personal preference. The important thing is to take action, replace the missing tooth and restore your smile and confidence!