Dentures vs. Implants: What’s the Best Option for You?

Story by Kolby Kickingwoman, for Montana 55

The loss of teeth can have an adverse effect on life. Whether not being able to eat the foods you enjoy
or having a lower self-esteem because of your appearance, tooth loss is no laughing matter.

According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, one in four people over the age of 74 have
lost all their natural teeth. Fortunately, with the advancement of technology and techniques, there are ways to ensure a full smile.

While dentures and bridges have been the more traditional method for tooth replacement, more and more people are opting to receive dental implants.

When it comes to dentures, they are almost always cheaper than implants but often require more maintenance over time. Dentures are made after a series of measurements and impressions are taken of your upper (maxilla) and lower (mandible) jaw to see how they relate to one another. A model is then produced and tried on several times where it is examined for color, shape and fit before the final
mold is cast. After the final denture is complete, adjustments are made as necessary.

Conventional, or complete, dentures are made after teeth are removed and the gum tissue has started to heal. This type of denture is ready for placement in eight to 12 weeks. For someone who doesn’t want to wait, immediate dentures can be made in advance and put in as soon as the teeth are removed.

While the patient doesn’t have to be without teeth during the healing period, immediate dentures normally require more adjustments during the healing process. These dentures should be considered temporary until conventional dentures can be made.

Until recently, complete and partial dentures were a procedure covered by Medicaid. During a special state legislative session late last year budget cuts resulted in $8.9 million in cuts to Medicaid dental services. The cuts were made due to a revenue shortfall and last year’s fire season, the most expensive in state history.

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) proposed Medicaid rule changes that would eliminate coverage for certain dental procedures. The proposed changes will eliminate Medicaid coverage for full maxillary and mandibular dentures as well as partial dentures. Crowns and bridges for adults also will cease to be covered.

Executive director for the Montana Dental Association David Hemion doesn’t believe the rollback of Medicaid coverage is a good idea.

“It’s definitely a bad choice by the state to do away with a dental service like dentures, especially for the elderly and disabled,” Hemion said. “They are essential for nutrition and without dentures the mouth structure can deteriorate to a point it will be more costly to maintain good oral health.”

In an email, communications specialist for Montana DPHHS Chuck Council said many factors were considered in the reductions and that the department did the best it could to protect the people it serves.

“These are not funding reductions any of us want to make,” Council said in the email, “but we have been forced into making these very difficult and painful decisions.”

The changes were set to take effect March 1.

On the other hand, dental implants provide a more long-term solution to teeth loss, even though the initial costs are more expensive. According to clinical studies, dental implants have a success rate above 95 percent and are designed to last a lifetime when maintained properly.

The surgery process is usually done in stages and can take several months to be completed. Additional surgeries may be required such as a bone graft or a sinus lift, which elongates the process in order to allow for the proper healing time.

Compared to dentures, implants have some distinct advantages, the natural look and ability to care for them as if they are normal teeth is just one of them. Dentures that don’t fit properly can make talking and eating difficult, implants act like your own teeth allowing you to eat and talk with confidence.

Although they may have a higher initial cost, a study published from 2013 in the U.S. National Library of Medicine showed single-tooth implants were generally cost saving or cost-effective over the long term. The same was said of multiple-teeth implants, with oral health improvements compared to other options.

According to dentalimplantcostguide.com, dentures for one arch of teeth typically would cost between $300 and $500, whereas a full set costs $1,000 on average. Top quality dentures made from the best available materials can run $8,000 or more for a full set.

Conversely, according to the same website, a single-tooth implant normally costs between $1,000 and $3,000 with an added fee depending on what material the dentist uses for the implant crown. Multiple implants can cost upwards of $30,000 depending on the number of implants and treatment choice.

Every person is different and consultation with a dentist can help steer you in the direction that’s best. As with anything, there are several variables that factor in including price, insurance coverage and personal opinion. Whether it’s dentures or implants, both can give you a reason to smile.