Dental Implant Alternatives: Know Your Options

If you’re missing teeth or need teeth replaced, but you don't qualify for traditional implants or would like a more affordable solution, there are alternative solutions. This article explains some common alternatives to traditional implants.

Key takeaways:

Anyone with missing teeth understands the impact it has on their health, self-confidence, and quality of life. While dental implants are the most preferred solution for tooth replacement, not all people qualify for or can afford implant treatment. Fortunately, there are several reliable options to consider, whether you have one missing tooth or need to rehabilitate your entire smile.

Dental bridges

Fixed dental bridges are one of the most popular and traditional forms of tooth replacement.

A dental bridge can replace one or two teeth as long as there are structurally sound teeth on either side. The ends of the bridge mimic the appearance and function of a dental crown, covering and reinforcing the tooth underneath it. This serves a dual purpose, as the bridge can be used to help restore or protect the teeth that support it.

As the name suggests, bridges essentially “bridge” the open area in your smile by suspending an artificial tooth or crown, called a “pontic,” in that space. Each of the crowns on the bridge are fused side-by-side, creating one solid unit.

Dental bridges serve various purposes, including:

  • Replacing the missing tooth.
  • Restorting smile aesthetics.
  • Preserving natural tooth spacing.
  • Reinforcing the teeth that support the bridge.

Most dental bridge treatments require two appointments approximately two weeks apart. They are made in a lab and crafted to match the other teeth in your mouth.

With good home care, traditional bridges can last approximately 7–10 years; their longevity often depends upon the health and integrity of the supporting teeth.

Partial dentures

“Partials” are a fast and economical alternative for someone who needs quick, affordable tooth replacement. Partial dentures replace several teeth at once but are designed to wrap around the healthy teeth you still have.

Getting a partial denture prevents the need for extractions or altering the structures of other healthy teeth, as you would with a fixed bridge. In some scenarios, dentists can also add teeth to the partial in the future if you lose additional teeth.

Most partial dentures have a metal or chrome base with artificial teeth attached to it. There are small arms or clasps that wrap around your other teeth, holding the partial in place. Smaller dentures can also be more flexible and made out of acrylic, eliminating the need for visible metal clasps.

Because your partial sits next to other teeth, it will be designed to match the teeth on either side of it for a more uniform, attractive appearance.

Conventional dentures

When you need to replace all of your teeth all at once, traditional dentures or “plates” are always an option.

With conventional dentures, the prosthesis rests directly on top of your gum tissues. For upper dentures, this creates a seal in the roof of your mouth to help hold it in place. Lower dentures require a bit of extra muscle support from your lips, cheeks, and tongue (as such, they require a bit of extra time and practice to get adjusted).

Dentures have been around for centuries, with modern designs that even snap on top of dental implants for added security. Conventional “plate” style dentures are still an excellent choice for someone who may not qualify for dental implant treatment or want to commit to the financial investment.

Most dentures last for several years, but they do need occasional adjustments, relines, or replacing as the acrylic wears out.

Zygomatic dental implants

If someone doesn’t have enough bone support to anchor traditional dental implants, some specialists offer an alternative implant design called “zygomatic” implants. These longer implants are placed at an angle in the upper jaw, reaching into the cheekbone (zygomatic arch) for support, rather than the short bone that once held the teeth in place.

Zygomatic implants can only be placed in the upper jaw, but they provide a reliable alternative to traditional implants. Usually, they’re placed in a set of two, with one on either side and 2–4 traditional implants at the front of the smile for “All-on-4” or “All-on-6” implant systems.

Mini dental implants

A traditional dental implant is about the same width and length as an anatomical tooth. Unfortunately, spacing and bone loss can interfere with implant placement when the area is narrow — for example, between two lower front teeth, or years after wearing a denture, where there is severe bone resorption (shrinkage).

Mini dental implants are only about half of the size of traditional implants. This smaller design allows them to be installed in tighter spaces between teeth or where the bone ridge is extremely narrow. They can also be used for anchoring removable snap-on overdentures.

Because mini dental implants are so small, the treatment process typically requires less of a time investment than traditional implants, and the healing process is much quicker. Most mini implant candidates can have their implant and restoration installed on the same day rather than waiting 3–6 months for traditional implants to completely integrate.

Working with an experienced implant dentist or specialist—such as a prosthodontist, oral surgeon, or periodontist—can help you better understand what alternatives to dental implants are appropriate for your unique smile. Everyone’s oral anatomy is different, so it’s important to have a knowledgeable, skilled provider who is best able to adjust your care plan to fit your expectations.

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