Dental plates and dental implants are two very different solutions to the same problem: Missing teeth. Understanding the differences, together with a dentist’s evaluation and guidance, will help determine which is right for you.
A dental “plate” is a term referring to any removable dental prosthetic. This covers any type of false teeth: full dentures, partial dentures, or removable bridges. Implants are also false teeth, but they are not removable. Instead, they are permanently embedded in the patient’s jaw bone.
Why It’s Important to Replace Lost Teeth
There is much more to tooth loss than just an imperfect smile:
- People with missing teeth can develop speech problems or have trouble eating.
- The space left behind can harbor harmful bacteria, leading to gum disease.
- Teeth will start to shift to fill the vacant space, causing an irregular bite and a “caved-in” look to the face. This can result in jaw pain, TMJ, and headaches.
- Missing teeth can eventually result in bone loss in the jaw. A weakened and brittle jaw bone means a great chance of losing even more teeth.
There is a strong connection between dental health and overall physical health. For example, infections due to tooth decay and gum disease can cause serious health problems having to do with the heart and lungs, as well as diabetes and an increased chance of complications during pregnancy.
Patients may feel that losing a decayed tooth or having one extracted solves their problems. In fact, missing teeth can be just as problematic. The best course of action is to replace a lost tooth, which leads to the debate between dental plates vs. implants.
The Case for Dental Plates (Dentures)
Believe it or not, dentures have been around since the 7th century BC! Obviously, modern materials and technology have transformed them since then. And in the last few decades, dental prosthetics have become better fitting and more natural looking than ever. Dentures today are no longer the stereotypical clicking, clacking, fake-looking teeth. They can look and feel natural and are a suitable option for anyone.
Uses and Types of Dentures
Dental plates can fill a gap left by one or more missing teeth, or recreate an entire top or bottom arch. Full dentures are just what they sound like: A full arch of false teeth. Partial dentures, sometimes simply called “partials” fill the gaps when there are still some teeth present. Both are removable.
Dental bridges are a more permanent form of dental plate. These are false teeth attached to neighboring healthy teeth, using cement, and usually with the use of crowns.
Dentures are made to look and feel as much like real teeth as possible. Porcelain is a common material for the “teeth.” These are attached to an acrylic plate that mimics the look and feel of the gums. Patients and dentists together will choose the appropriate size, shape, and shade for a custom-made, natural look.
The dentist will start by making an impression of the gums (and any remaining teeth in the case of a partial). If necessary, they may choose to remove some or all of the remaining teeth and wait for the gums to heal first. This can take 4 to 6 weeks.
The full or partial dental plate takes about a month to create in a dental lab. After the initial fitting, adjustments can be made as needed until the fit is just right.
Aside from possibly needing teeth removed, getting dentures is more inconvenient than invasive, since the patient may need to cope without teeth while the plates are prepared and adjusted.
What Do Dentures Cost?
The cost of dental work varies widely depending on the dentist and the location of the dental practice, and dentures are no different. In terms of dental plates vs. implants, plates are much more affordable. A full arch of quality, upper and lower dentures average between $800 and $1,500. Upper and lower together can cost between $1,000 and $3,000.
Living with Dentures
Talking and eating with dentures might feel unnatural at first, but if they are well-made and fit properly it won’t take long to get used to them. Most people will not notice a good quality set of dentures on a patient.
Dentures are removable and should be taken out to clean and at bedtime. Brushing should be done using a toothpaste labeled as safe for dentures. Soaking overnight is also recommended. It is also a good idea to rinse dentures after eating as food can get stuck under them.
A full upper dental plate uses natural suction to stay in place. Lower plates stay put because of the position of the tongue and lips. If dentures slip or become uncomfortable, it often means the jawbone or gums have changed shape. This can also cause friction and irritation on the gums or lips. In very bad cases, When this happens, an adjustment to the plates or a new set of dentures might be necessary.
Dentures can crack or break but if they are well cared for and there are no significant shifts in the gums or jaw, they should last for 5 to 10 years.
Dental implants have become increasingly popular in recent years because they look and feel just like real teeth. And unlike dentures, they are permanent rather than removable.
How Are Implants Different?
Using a titanium screw, dental implants are embedded directly into the jaw bone. The post is topped with a knob-like abutment, which is in turn capped with a crown. Each individual tooth requires a separate hole and a separate post. There is an alternative called an “All-on-4” for the replacement of an entire arch of teeth. Four posts are inserted and topped with a denture-like arch of false teeth.
Implant placement is a surgical procedure, and as such is more complicated and invasive than getting dentures. Patients typically need to see an oral surgeon or other specialist rather than a general dentist. As with dentures, the process begins with impressions of the patient’s teeth and gums.
Before any work can begin, the surgeon must first assess the jaw bone’s strength and stability. If the jaw is too weak to support an implant, the patient may need a bone graft first.
For a healthy jaw (or after a bone graft has healed) the process involves drilling a hole into the bone and screwing in the implant. The patient is under general anesthetic throughout the surgery. A temporary crown (created from the impressions) is placed on top of the abutment so the patient can eat while the incision heals and the implant fuses to the bone. Once healed, a permanent crown is attached to the implant.
Healing time varies from person to person. The entire process can take as long as 6 to 8 months from start to finish. If it is necessary, a bone graft can take an additional 3 to 6 months to heal before the surgeon can place the implant.
Complications with implants are very rare. But as with any surgical procedure, there are some risks. Patients should discuss their concerns with their dentist or oral surgeon.
The Cost of Implants
Implants cost considerably more than dentures. This is partly because it involves surgery and partly because the materials and technology cost more. The price for a single tooth ranges from about $1,500 to $6,000. If several teeth are missing, this can become very expensive. To replace an entire arch, the alternative “All-on-4” is more affordable at about $15,000.
Living with Implants
The invasive nature of implant surgery means that there will be some pain and discomfort and healing will take time. Once healed, however, patients can resume their normal lives as before. There is no difference between how an implant and a real tooth feels in the mouth, and no one should be able to see a difference either.
The biggest attraction for implants is the fact that they are permanent. Unlike dentures, they do not need to be removed. Brushing and flossing is just like with real teeth too, but with the added advantage that implants can’t get cavities.
Dental implants, if cared for, can last 20 years or more. For many, this justifies the time and trouble of surgery, as well as the higher cost.
Dental Plates vs. Implants: Which Should You Choose?
Dentists agree that the risk of missing teeth calls for a solution. Dentures are faster, less expensive, and non-invasive. But implants last a lot longer and look and feel more like real teeth.
Making the choice of dental plates vs. implants is not always easy. Patients must consider the cost, how quickly they want a solution for their missing teeth, and their tolerance for the discomfort of surgery. The best thing to do is start with a discussion of the options with a dentist. Use our online search tool to make an appointment with one near you.