Are Dental Implants Better Than Dentures?
From a professional standpoint, dental implants are better than dentures because they maintain the anatomic and aesthetic structure of your face, mouth and jawbones. Also, dental implants are more comfortable because they very rarely cause pain and irritation in the gums and/or jaw, and implants work to maintain the jaw bone’s structural integrity, typically compromised by tooth loss or extractions – and the subsequent use of dentures. However, implants are more expensive than dentures and they’re rarely covered by dental insurance (yet). As a result, most dentists and oral surgeons make recommendations on a case-by-case basis.
The Basics of Dentures Versus Dental Implants
First, let’s review the general ins-and-outs of dentures and dental implants, which illustrates why we feel implants are the better choice whenever possible.
Dentures and partials (bridges) explained
Dentures and bridges (partial dentures) are used when one or more teeth have to be pulled and replacements are required. While most adults can survive with a single tooth pulled here or there, the loss of these teeth makes it more difficult to eat, leading to malnourishment, and can also affect the way an individual speaks. Also, if a person’s looks are affected, missing teeth can negatively impact an individual’s self-esteem. By replacing pulled, broken or missing teeth with partial or full dentures, we eliminate these issues.
Before teeth are extracted, the dentist makes molds of the existing teeth and the tissues that support the tooth in order to get a good fit. While a temporary denture is used immediately after teeth are extracted, the permanent dentures are slowly built by the dentist and lab techs. Patients visit weekly for the four to five weeks during this process so the molds can be carefully fitted, adjusted and tweaked to accommodate the patient’s comfort and a healthy, balanced bite.
Over time, however, the gums continue to morph and change shape as they fill in the holes where teeth were once rooted. Because the roots of your teeth are anchored into the jaw bone –helping to support the jaw bone’s integrity – the jaw bone begins to deteriorate after they’re removed. Dentures will become too loose, too tight or will shift uncomfortably, requiring an adjustment of the fit. If dentures aren’t properly maintained or if they aren’t wearing well, patients can wind up with very sore gums or – worse – infected gums, compromising their overall health.
While today’s dentures – made from a combination of metal, hard acrylic and/or nylon resins for the plate and porcelain for the teeth – are tough, they can still crack, chip or break. Without proper care, dentures also harbor bacteria which puts the wearer at higher risk for infection.
One of the benefits of dentures is that they are affordable and they are often partially or fully-covered by dental and/or medical insurance plans. Because of the way the jawbone and gum lines change over time as the result of jawbone loss and degeneration, most dentists recommend replacing dentures every five to eight years.
PLEASE NOTE: Some patients think, “I’ll get dentures now and then implants later…” This is NOT a good idea. If your jawbone deteriorates too much, it can compromise your ability to get dental implants later on. If cost is prohibitive, speak to the oral surgeon about financing options or a phased plan that prioritizes certain teeth at first and slowly integrates the others as you can afford it.
Dental implants explained
Dental implants work much differently – and more naturally – than dentures. Rather than resting on the healed gums, dental implants are surgically installed directly into your jawbone. This is done using a very strong, titanium metal post that resembles a screw. The post is screwed into the jaw bone, mimicking the way your natural teeth are rooted into the same structure. This adds stability to the jaw bone, minimizing deterioration resulting from natural teeth being extracted without a replacement.
Once the posts are installed, it takes time for the bone to fill in and integrate around the spiral screws, a process called osseiointegration. Healing can take anywhere from weeks to a month or more. In the immediate period after the titanium posts are placed, you’ll need to treat your mouth the same as you did when your wisdom teeth were removed – adhering to careful cleaning and brushing, soft nourishing foods, avoiding suction, etc. If the implants are replacing teeth that are visible when you smile, you’ll be given a temporary partial denture that is removed and cleaned each night.
When the posts are secure and the osseiointegration process is complete (the time period for this depends on your personal rate of healing, and whether or not you required a jawbone graft for secure placement of the post(s)), a second surgery is required to attach the abutment to the titanium post. The abutment is the anchor for the porcelain tooth – or crown – that will eventually be installed.
Patients have two choices when it comes to the porcelain crowns.
- Removable crowns: These look similar to dentures but they snap on to the abutment, eliminating the fit, bite or discomfort issues associated with dentures. Removability makes them easy to remove for cleaning, whitening and/or repair when necessary. If affordability is an issue, we typically recommend removable crowns.
- Fixed crowns. Fixed crowns are permanently screwed or cemented onto the abutment. They cannot be removed the same way as their removable counterparts, which makes it more expensive to handle if the crown cracks or breaks down the road.
Once the porcelain crown, molded to match your original teeth’s structure, is installed – you will feel like you have your own teeth again. No uncomfortable fit or poor bite to worry about, no resizing or re-fitting at routine visits, and no worries about jawbone degeneration. Unlike dentures, dental implants last an average of 25-years or more with proper cleaning and care.
Dental Implants Are the Next Best Thing to Your Original Teeth
Because they are firmly rooted in the jawbone, are more comfortable, better maintain your original mouth and face shape, and are less prone to frequent, dental implants are considered better than dentures in almost all circumstances.
Always schedule a consultation with your dentist or oral surgeon to discuss whether you’re a good candidate for dental implants. Because it’s a surgical procedure, and because the implants depend on your body’s ability to facilitate the osseiointegration process, your overall health – rather than age – is the primary factor in whether or not you’re a good candidate for having dental implants.
Are you looking for a permanent solution to tooth loss and/or decay? Contact us here at Los Gatos Oral and Facial Surgery to learn more about dental implants and to schedule a consultation to determine whether dental implants are the right move for you.
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