When you have a single missing tooth there are two options to replace it, either a single dental implant or a three unit bridge.
Although a dental bridge continues to be the more common approach, many dentists ask their patients to consider the option of a dental implant
because of its advantages versus a traditional dental bridge.
The cost of a three-unit bridge can range around $2,000 to $2,500. The single dental implant cost is around $3,000 on average.
Prices will be different from area to area or from dentist to dentist, but as a general rule dental implant will be about 20-25% more expensive than the bridge.
From an immediate cost perspective it looks like the three unit bridge restoration might be the preferred treatment vs dental implants. But it may not be so, if you consider all the other factors described in this article.
What is important when comparing the cost of a dental implant vs. a 3-unit bridge is to estimate how long each will last. Dental implants on healthy jawbone can last for a life time if the patient follows careful oral hygiene.
For our calculation let's assume an average dental implant lifetime of only 20 yrs.
Assuming that you had selected the 3-unit bridge, the following are very possible to happen:
- Adjacent teeth failure. If any of the adjacent teeth that support the bridge fail due to tooth decay or periodontal disease you should replace the entire bridge.
Actually the dental bridge itself can contribute to the dental problems of the adjacent teeth. The supporting teeth even if they are totally healthy have to be trimmed in order to place the post for the bridge.
Except of the initial damage made to healthy teeth, they become more susceptible to tooth decay. This can mean additional costs for dental fillings or root canal treatments.
The adjacent teeth that anchor the bridge have also to withstand heavier load during chewing, increasing the risk of root fracture which will need a root canal and may lead to tooth loss.
- Dental hygiene problems. Dental bridges require special cleaning with an interdental brush.
Many patients find it much more difficult to clean from bacteria the areas around and under dental bridges vs. cleaning plaque around dental implants.
This may allow the accumulation of dental plaque around dental bridges, increasing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
- Jaw bone damage. Jaw bone in the area of the missing tooth has the tendency to weaken and deteriorate. This could cause increased mobility problems to the teeth that support the bridge.
If one of them becomes loose then the structural integrity of the bridge is in danger.
- Bridge repair/replacement. It is estimated that dental bridges have to be replaced every 10 years on average, which is the half of the time that a dental implant is expected to last.
So the equivalent of dental implant's cost is the initial bridge cost plus that of the replacement bridge that will be needed in some years.
In the mean time, some degree of dental bridge repair may also be required in the years before it has to be replaced, increasing the dental bridge maintenance costs.
This analysis demonstrates that in the long term the patient not only ends up to pay more for the initial bridge and its replacement versus the one time cost for the dental implant,
but also has increased risk of loosing more teeth and worsened dental health.
However if a patient is not a good candidate for dental implants e.g. smokers then due to the increased risk of failure in smokers,
a dental bridge may be a better alternative versus dental implants if cost effectiveness is the first priority.