Missing Teeth? What to Do About the Cost of Implants

Missing Teeth? What to Do About the Cost of Implants

Some 178 million Americans are missing at least one tooth, according to the American College of Prosthodontists. And dental implants have become the preferred choice for restorations. But what do you do if you are missing teeth, and can’t afford implants?

Many people go without, but this is a bad idea. Missing teeth should be replaced with dental implants or an implant alternative. The key, then, is finding the best prices for the implants (or implant alternatives).

You Need to Do Something About Your Missing Teeth

With today’s skyrocketing healthcare costs, patients who want dental implants are naturally worried about the cost—which is usually not covered by insurance.

Is it OK to skip getting implants? Is it OK to do nothing about missing teeth? Are dental implants just for looks, or is there a medical reason to replace lost teeth?

Indeed, there is. Replacing missing teeth helps the mouth retain its function. A person’s teeth and jaws settle into a given “bite” over time, which in turn affects how they chew and speak, and even how they sleep. That function can be disrupted when one or more teeth are pulled or fall out. So, over time, the missing teeth will affect how the patient eats, talks, and rests.

Replacing missing teeth also protects the remaining teeth from damage. When a tooth is missing from a particular spot in the mouth, that spot is not getting the stimulation it needs. After a while, the bone and surrounding structures can begin to deteriorate. When that happens, there will be less support for the remaining teeth, which will also begin to shift and become misaligned.

Both the space created by missing teeth and the misalignment of remaining teeth create a lot of opportunities for decay and gum disease. Replacing missing teeth should be a priority for anyone concerned with dental health.

Getting More Affordable Implants

Once a patient understands the importance of replacing teeth that have gone missing, it is time to choose a restoration. Dental implants are becoming the first choice for many people. But dental implants are notoriously expensive: A single implant can cost about $4800, on average, on the open market today.

Many simply can not afford that cost in their budget, and many insurance policies simply do not cover implants. For the more than 74 million Americans that have no dental insurance, the cost must come completely out of pocket. So what can be done to make dental implants more affordable?

  1. Get a dental loan or work out a payment plan. Some lenders will provide small, short-term “personal” loans that can be used toward dental expenses. Two companies specializing in dental care loans are DentalLoans.com and American Medical Loans. Your local bank might have a similar loan program as well. Likewise, some implant providers offer financing programs, allowing patients to pay over time.
  2. Look into dental credit cards. Dental credit cards exist, and they help millions of people spread out the costs of their dental care. Many of these cards can be used for other medical expenses too. Some of the most popular are CareCredit and iCare Financial. Just be sure to read the fine print before signing up for one, as they often have very specific restrictions and qualifications.
  3. Go where implants are cheaper. Most people want to know where to find cheap dental implants near them. But when talking about such high costs, it might actually pay to go out of town for implants. All types of professional services in large cities on either coast, for example, are typically more expensive than those in smaller cities in the Midwest. Let’s say you need $8,500 worth of implants (typical for a bridge implant). If you can find the same treatment for $5,000 out of state, and your travel costs are around $920, you can save $2,580. Consider searching for providers not just in the local area, but in another city or state. 
  4. Look into an “All-on-4.” If a patient needs an entire arch replaced, they can consider something called an “All-on-4” or “G4” implant. This is an implant that replaces an entire arch of teeth but only needs to be connected to the jaw with four implants. The math is simple here: 4 implants (plus an arch) are much cheaper than 8 to 12 implants, saving money for those who need that many missing teeth replaced.
  5. Consider more traditional restoration alternatives. Although implants have grown in popularity, traditional dental plates (false teeth known as bridges and dentures) are not only still common, but are more affordable.

Alternatives to Dental Implants

There are developments in dental implant technology happening all the time, but before implants, people usually relied on either dental bridges or dentures to replace missing teeth. Both represent cheaper alternatives to implants. Neither solution, however, is as effective as implants in solving the issues of bone loss and mouth support mentioned above. This should be considered when considering not just the cost, but the long-term value of restorations.

Dental Bridges vs. Dental Implants

Dental bridges perform much the same function as dental implants. While dental implants are secured to the jaw, dental bridges are secured to crowns placed on adjacent teeth. For people missing just a few teeth in a given area, a dental bridge is a possible alternative.

patient removing their dentures
Image by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Like implants, bridges are fixed in your mouth and so do not easily come undone. They can often be placed more quickly and more inexpensively, too. However, they do not provide the support structure in the same way that implants do. So, while they might be an option for folks already suffering from bone loss, implants might be a better route for those who don’t want to risk future bone loss. 

Dentures vs. Dental Implants

Another common alternative to dental implants are dentures. Dentures are very common in older populations; they are basically large retainers that replace missing teeth. Complete dentures replace a full set of teeth, while partial dentures simply replace a smaller set of teeth, where there is a noticeable gap.

Getting dentures made is much easier and less stressful than implants, which require surgery. However, they also require much more care and do not function as well as dental implants. Indeed, many people report that dentures will collect food and plaque quite easily, becoming havens for bacteria and decay.

Of course, much of this can be solved with a regular maintenance routine. Thus, dentures tend to be a choice for people who have the time to tend to their dentures and who do not want to risk unneeded pain or surgery.

Finally, dentures still have a problem when it comes to bone loss and tooth support. Despite their higher cost, dental implants often are a better investment in the long run, provided a patient can afford them.

Weighing the Cost of Implants

When making the decision to get dental implants, keep the following in mind:

  • Find the cheapest available dental implants first. This might mean arranging for financing or finding a dental practice outside of the region that has lower overhead and charges less.
  • Factor in the time and cost of maintenance. Getting implants can take a long time, as it involves surgery and often months of healing time. But once the implants are in place, maintenance is the same as with natural teeth. The daily oral care routine for a bridge or dentures can add up. Dental plates also do not last as long. Bridges and dentures typically need to be replaced within 5 to 10 years. Implants last twice as long or longer!
  • Factor in future dental work and your oral health. A fairly young patient will have to live with their restoration decision for a long time. Choosing an alternative that can lead to bone loss or further decay will just add to the dentistry bills in the future. It is important to weigh an investment in implants today with potential future problems.
  • Do what’s right for you. Every patient’s dental situation—and budget—is different. Talk to the dentist and weigh your options and risks. Then make the decision that is best for you.

Are you considering dental implants to replace missing teeth? The best place to begin is to discuss a treatment plan with a dentist. Use our online search tool to find a qualified implant provider in your area, or anywhere in the United States.