Dental implants are a very successful, long-lasting treatment option for people facing tooth loss and one of the best innovations in modern dentistry. However, they are not the right option for everyone.
In this guide, we discuss the 3 alternative techniques used for dental implants and the 4 best alternatives to consider if they are not a viable option for you.
In This Guide
- 3 Alternative Techniques for Dental Implants
- 4 Non-Implant Tooth Replacement Options
- Doing Nothing: A Last Resort
3 Alternative Techniques for Dental Implants
Also known as immediate load dental implants, same day dental implants are a technique that allows your implantologist to place a temporary crown on the same day that you have the dental implant surgically placed into your jaw. This enables you to eat and smile as normal while the implant site heals and fuses with your jawbone over the course of the next 3 to 6 months.
This procedure is ideal for patients who want to maintain the aesthetic of their smile and have enough bone density in their jaw to support the implant and withstand the forces of chewing applied to the temporary crown. Unfortunately, not everyone is a candidate for this procedure. Ask your dentist about which option is best for your situation.
Mini dental implants (MDIs) – also known as small or narrow diameter implants (NDI or SDI), are a small type of dental implant that are typically less than 3 mm in diameter. Traditional implants are up to twice as large (3 to 6 mm in diameter). Mini implants are most commonly used to secure a complete upper or lower denture. They are also for patients who are not candidates for traditional implants as the surgery to place them is less invasive.
All-on-4 (also known as implant supported dentures) is an alternative technique of fixing a complete upper or lower set of replacement teeth in place. 4 (sometimes 6) implants are placed into the jawbone near the front of the mouth and used as the base to attach and stabilize a set of replacement teeth (denture).
The biggest benefit of All-on-4 is that it makes the most of a patient’s available bone – allowing some patients who have lower bone density to avoid bone grafting surgery.
The All-on-4 technique requires 1 to 2 planning and preparation appointments, 1 to place the implants and temporary teeth, a few appointments during the 3 to 6 month recovery period and lastly one to place the final denture. A temporary set of teeth is attached to the special abutments right after the surgery and can be used with a modified diet while the implants fuse with the bone and the surgical sites heal.
Non-Implant Tooth Replacement Options
There are two common reasons why patients choose an alternative treatment to implants:
Reason #1: They’re Not a Candidate
Some people have been informed by their dentist or oral surgeon that they are not suitable for dental implants. There are a number of factors that can cause a higher risk of implant failure and which need to be considered when planning implant treatment. These factors apply if you:
- Are over the age of 60
- Had radiation or chemotherapy for cancer
- Have low bone density in your jawbone
- Are taking medications that interfere with bone growth
- Are postmenopausal and have low estrogen levels
- Have gum disease
- Drink alcohol to excess
- Have poorly controlled diabetes
Reason #2: It’s Too Expensive
Dental implant treatment is expensive compared to the following alternative ways of replacing missing teeth. The average cost of a single tooth dental implant is around $4000 for the dental implant, abutment, and implant crown. Patients who want a complete set of implant-supported dentures will spend around $20,000 to $40,000.
There are a few ways to make implant treatment more affordable and save some money. One option is to find a dental school that is willing to provide this treatment. Another is to apply for credit/financing. Even so, the overall cost of dental implant treatment is out of reach for many people.
If either of these reasons applies to you, the following are the five best alternatives to dental implants. All these treatments are cheaper, less invasive and have fewer risk factors.
A fixed bridge that is supported by natural teeth is the most frequently used alternative to an implant-supported restoration, particularly if only a single tooth needs to be restored.
With a fixed bridge, the teeth either side of the gap are crowned. These anchor teeth are also called abutment teeth. The replacement tooth is called a pontic and this is fixed in between the two crowns. Fixed bridges can be made from gold or other precious metal alloys, or from porcelain. Sometimes a fixed bridge is made from a combination of these materials as for example it may have a precious metal alloy substructure that is covered up with porcelain to create a natural looking appearance.
This option has several disadvantages compared to implants. A dental implant is self-supporting, but a tooth-supported bridge’s abutment teeth need to be ground down in preparation for dental crowns. These teeth may be strong and disease-free, and removing healthy tooth structure is not desirable.
Additionally, supporting a replacement tooth places these teeth under stress. Once this healthy tooth structure is removed, there is a greater risk of these abutment teeth eventually becoming decayed and infected.
With a dental implant, the bone surrounding the implant post is stimulated, just as it would be with a normal tooth root. The bone underneath the tooth-supported bridge doesn’t receive this stimulation and will gradually deteriorate and reabsorb. This can affect the appearance of the dental bridge and your smile.
A fixed bridge also requires more maintenance and care compared to a single dental implant and it may not last as long as an implant-supported bridge. All types of tooth restorations need replacing periodically, regardless of whether they are supported by dental implants or natural teeth.
However, something to consider is that replacing a three-tooth bridge is more expensive than having to replace a single dental implant crown. In the longer term, a three-tooth fixed bridge could prove more costly.
Benefits of a Tooth-Supported Fixed Bridge
A skilled dental technician can craft a tooth-supported fixed bridge from sophisticated porcelains so the overall effect will be very natural. The most advanced porcelains closely replicate the shades and translucencies found in natural teeth. If the abutment teeth are already decayed, discolored or oddly shaped, covering them up with a tooth-supported fixed bridge can improve their appearance.
The procedure for a tooth-supported fixed bridge is very straightforward and treatment is typically completed within a couple of weeks, which is significantly quicker than dental implant treatment. Treatment is affordable, with a traditional bridge unit or replacement tooth costing from $700 to $1500.
A partial denture is a removable dental appliance that can be held in place by the adjacent teeth or with clasps that fit around existing teeth. Some partial dentures have precision attachments, where an attachment on the denture will clip onto an attachment in a crown or bridge.
Partial dentures can be made from acrylic and may be strengthened with a Cobalt chrome base. Some are flexible and are made from nylon.
This option is less invasive as there is no need for the adjacent teeth to be ground down, but it is nowhere near as stable as implants, which may affect your ability to eat and speak. A partial denture is considerably less expensive, but it will not provide the same aesthetic results or functionality compared to an implant-supported tooth. Bone loss in the jaw can affect the stability of the partial denture, and the adjacent teeth.
Benefits of a Removable Partial Denture
A removable partial denture is the most affordable option and will do a reasonable job at hiding the gap in between your teeth and restoring your ability to smile and talk with confidence.
A well-designed partial denture could help improve your speech, and it’s often possible to add false teeth to this denture if you happen to lose more teeth. The technique to make and fit one is minimally invasive. If it includes clasps or a precision attachment then your dentist may need to adapt these teeth accordingly in order to ensure the clasps fit snugly or that a tooth can be crowned to fit the precision attachment.
A removable complete denture is supported by the gums, resting on the area that used to hold your natural teeth. It is a low-cost and non-invasive alternative to dental implant restoration, but complete dentures can often be uncomfortable and unstable.
They are frequently quite large and bulky, particularly upper dentures that cover up the upper palate. This can affect your ability to taste food properly, and your choice of foods will be more limited, as certain foods cannot be chewed properly with dentures.
Dentures do tend to move around slightly during eating, speaking, and even when smiling or yawning. Improving denture retention with denture adhesives only offers a temporary solution. This continual movement can create sore spots on your gums. The pressure created by dentures resting on the gums can accelerate bone loss. Denture wearers often find they will make a clicking sound when they talk.
Benefits of a Removable Complete Denture
A complete denture is a quick and cost-effective way to help increase self-confidence and to immediately improve appearance. It replaces teeth that may have been missing, worn down or decayed, and a properly designed complete denture will provide the correct amount of support for the muscles in the cheeks and lips. This helps to maintain your facial structure, or if you have been missing teeth for many years, then it may improve your facial appearance. Missing teeth can allow the cheeks and lips to collapse inwards, an effect that is immediately aging.
Complete dentures improve your ability to eat and speak comfortably. Once in place, you should find it much easier to eat a greater variety of foods, potentially improving overall nutrition. Dentures are also the most affordable solution and the procedure to make them is minimally invasive. They are a particularly good choice for anyone who does not want to undergo dental surgery.
A resin-bonded bridge is also called a Maryland bridge. This type of bridge is only really suitable for replacing front teeth, and where they do not come under excessive stress due to biting and chewing. A Maryland bridge has solid wings whereas a Rochette bridge has holes drilled into the wings. This allows it to stick to the adjacent teeth more easily.
A resin-bonded bridge has wings that fit onto the inner or lingual surfaces of the teeth adjacent to the gap. These wings are then attached to the replacement tooth or pontic. Any preparation of these teeth is usually minimal, but your dentist may need to remove a small amount of tooth enamel in order to help the bridge adhere a little better. It can be made from metal alloy and where the pontic is covered with porcelain, or it can be made from an all-ceramic material such as zirconia.
This type of bridge can be a good alternative to a removable denture but it isn’t as strong as a fixed bridge. If you happen to bite down too hard then the bridge may pop off your teeth and will need to be re-cemented by your dentist.
A resin-bonded bridge will not last nearly as long as implants. This type is sometimes used as a temporary restoration during the dental implant process, restoring the missing tooth until it is ready to be permanently restored with an implant supported crown.
Benefits of a Resin-Bonded Bridge
This type of bridge is cheaper and less invasive than a tooth-supported fixed bridge, where the teeth adjacent to the gap would need to be substantially ground down. It will restore your smile and your ability to speak and eat comfortably and ensures the shape of your face is maintained. Your resin-bonded bridge will also prevent the teeth adjacent to the gap from drifting out of place.
Doing Nothing: A Last Resort
If you choose to do nothing or wish to delay treatment to replace missing teeth, it’s worth considering the consequences. The most important thing to be aware of is the jawbone loss that occurs as a result of tooth loss.
When a natural tooth root is extracted, the bone that used to surround it will gradually lose density and retract. This is because without the root, the bone is no longer stimulated by the forces of chewing and biting. Bone needs this stimulation to maintain its mass and density and most bone loss occurs in the first year after tooth loss. During the first 12 months, there is a 25% decrease in the width of bone in the jaw, while bone height gradually decreases over the next few years.
This can cause serious problems both aesthetically and functionally, particularly for people who have lost all their teeth. If you still have some natural teeth, bone loss can affect their stability, and the lack of replacement teeth allows existing teeth to drift out of position. This can affect your bite and is yet another reason why doing nothing is not a good solution.
Ideally, it’s best to get some form of tooth replacement as soon as you can, and if you want to have dental implants it’s always better to have them done sooner rather than later to prevent bone loss. People who delay getting them will often require bone grafts before treatment, extending the overall time required and increasing the cost.
What to Read Next
- Dental Bridges vs Implants: Comparison of Costs & Benefits
- Dentures vs Dental Implants – Costs & Benefits
- Dental Bridges: Types & Procedures
- Dentures: Partial, Full, Permanent & Immediate
- How to Find a Dentist You Can Trust
Over to You
We’re interested to know – what alternative option or technique are you leaning towards and what teeth do you need replaced? Let us know by leaving a comment below!