Dental Implants Versus Dentures
It can be difficult to decide how to replace missing teeth. The two most popular options are dental implants and traditional dentures. Both dental implants and dentures have benefits and drawbacks. Here are some factors to consider as you work with your dentist to choose what will work best for you, as well as some information about additional options.
What Are the Differences
Implants are essentially metal posts (called prosthetic roots) that are screwed into the jawbone, then the prosthetic teeth are attached to the post.
Dental implants are a more permanent solution to missing teeth and can last up to 20 years. Dentures, on the other hand, may break or need adjustments over the years.
Dentures are prosthetic, removable teeth that are fitted to your mouth. They can replace a full set of teeth for the upper and/or lower jaws or can replace just a few missing teeth (this is called a partial denture).
Dental implants require a more involved process than dentures. First the damaged root of the tooth is extracted. Then, your dentist will drill a hole into the jawbone into which a metal post will be implanted. Bone must grow around the post to secure it. This can take up to two months. Then an abutment—a prosthetic piece that screws onto and sits above the gums—is placed onto the post. Finally, a crown that serves as the artificial tooth is secured to the abutment.
If you decide to get dentures to replace all your teeth on the upper and/or lower jaws, your dentist will make an impression of the gums and make sure they are aligned properly to assure good chewing and speech abilities.
Then a lab will make a preliminary set of dentures and send them to your dentist, who will put them in your mouth and then make any necessary adjustments before the final set is crafted. To secure the dentures while wearing them, you will need to use an adhesive made to help bond them to your gums.
One drawback to dental implants is the cost. While the cost for implants varies across location and practice, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), an implant for a single tooth can cost anywhere from $1,600 to $2,200.
For a full set of upper and lower dentures, according to the ADA, you should expect to spend around $3,200, or around $1,600 a piece for the upper and lower set.
Maintenance and Care
Caring for your dental implants is much the same as caring for your original teeth, which involves brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing regularly, and having regularly scheduled checkups. If an original crown is cracked or broken, it would need to be replaced.
Dentures need to be cleaned daily. To do this, you will need to remove them after eating and brush them. Dentures may also need to be re-adjusted to fit your bite as it changes over time.
While not that common, complications from dental implants can include infection, loose posts, and broken or cracked crowns. The ADA estimates implants fail about 5 to 10 percent of the time.
Complications for dentures are usually issues such as the dentures not staying in place, or the formation of ulcers or sores on the gums if they are not fitted correctly.
Factors to Consider When Deciding
The following are some factors to consider when thinking about which option to choose.
- Age. Because dental implants are more permanent, people in their 60s or younger may want to choose implants since this solution should last a few decades. Older people and those who prefer not to go through the more involved process of getting implants may be more likely to opt for dentures.
- Jawbone Density. Because implants require enough jawbone to support the posts, if you don’t have enough jawbone due to injury, tooth loss, gum disease, or age, you may not be a suitable candidate for implants. To increase jawbone density, a procedure called dental bone grafting can sometimes be done, but this increases the cost of the implants and makes the process more involved.
- Comfort and Functionality. Dental implants may provide a preferable comfort level and better chewing than dentures.
There are some other options for replacing teeth. These include a dental bridge, a temporary partial denture, and a snap-in denture.
- A dental bridge can be a good option for people who do not need an entire set of new prosthetic teeth. Also called a fixed partial denture, a dental bridge fills the gap, using the teeth around it for support.
- A temporary partial denture, also called a “flipper,” is a removable device--similar to a retainer, that contains one or more teeth. Temporary partial dentures are generally the least expensive option for replacing missing teeth but are not as durable as other options. People waiting for implants or a fixed dental bridge may use these devices as a temporary solution, but they can be a long-term solution if patients understand they will likely need to be replaced over time.
- Snap-in dentures are somewhat of a cross between implants and traditional dentures. These prosthetic teeth “snap in” to two to four posts in each jaw, thus they do not require an adhesive to keep them in place. These can be permanent or removable for cleaning. They are more expensive than traditional dentures and can have similar complications to implants. However, people who have implant-supported overdentures—dentures that are supported with a few posts implanted in the jawbone—have reported increased comfort and chewing compared to conventional dentures.
Deciding how to replace your missing teeth relies on many factors that are individual to you. It is important to discuss all options with your dental health care professionals so they can help guide you to the best solution based on your specific situation and preferences.