What Is a Dental Bridge?

A Permanent Appliance That Replaces Missing Teeth

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A dental bridge is a permanent appliance that replaces a missing tooth or missing teeth. It's made up of several pieces that are fused together to fit into the open space where your tooth or teeth used to be. 

Dental bridges are an alternative to partial dentures. They serve both practical and aesthetic purposes, enabling you to eat and speak better as well as restoring your teeth's appearance.

The bridge may be made of several different types of material, including gold, alloys, or porcelain. When replacing a front tooth, porcelain is most often the material of choice because it can be matched to your natural tooth color.

Dental bridge
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Types of Dental Bridges

The artificial teeth used in dental bridges are called pontics. You'll have a pontic for each missing tooth, created to be close in shape and size to the missing one(s).

Pontics are anchored to a tooth or teeth next to the gap (called abutment teeth) or to a dental implant. The four primary types of bridges include:

  1. Traditional fixed bridge: This is the most common type of bridge. It includes a crown on either side of the pontic(s).
  2. Maryland dental bridge or resin-bonded bridge: This is often used to replace front teeth. Instead of crowns, it uses porcelain or metal frameworks with "wings" that are bonded to the back of your teeth on either side of the gap.
  3. Implant-supported bridge: An implant for each missing tooth is surgically embedded into your jawbone in one procedure. The bridge, which contains the pontics, is placed over them in a later procedure.
  4. Cantilever bridge: This one is no longer commonly used. When only one side of the gap contains a natural tooth, the pontic(s) are anchored by a single crown on that natural tooth.

Advantages of Dental Bridges

Dental bridges can provide many benefits, including:

  • Restoring a natural look to your mouth/smile
  • Restoring the ability to speak normally, as missing teeth can impede proper enunciation
  • Maintaining normal facial structure by preventing bone loss from the jaw at the site of the missing tooth/teeth
  • Restoring the ability to chew food efficiently
  • Preventing adjacent teeth from moving into the empty space, which can cause problems with your bite and lead to other complications

Disadvantages of Dental Bridges

Dental bridges do have some disadvantages, as well, such as:

  • Future damage to the abutment teeth can compromise the bridge.
  • If the crowns are ill-fitting, bacteria and plaque may get inside and cause tooth decay.
  • The crowns may change the structure of your teeth, affecting your bite.
  • If the abutment teeth aren't strong enough to support the bridge, the bridge could collapse.
  • The abutment teeth may be weakened by the procedure(s) and have to be replaced by dental implants.

Are You a Good Candidate?

Not everyone is a good candidate for a dental bridge. Factors that make you a good candidate include:

  • Missing one or more permanent teeth
  • Having overall good health (no severe health conditions, infections, or other health problems)
  • Having healthy teeth and a strong bone structure to support the bridge
  • Having good oral health
  • Performing good oral hygiene to maintain the condition of the dental bridge

You and your dentist should discuss these factors before deciding whether a bridge is right for you.

Getting a Dental Bridge

A Maryland bridge requires fewer appointments than the other types because the abutment teeth don't need to be prepared. For the other three types, you'll have at least two procedures performed, and the process can be a lengthy one.

Regardless of your bridge type, expect your dentist to take impressions or a digital scan of your teeth that the lab will use to shape the components of the bridge.

Traditional or Cantilever Bridge

The first step in getting a traditional fixed or cantilever dental bridge involves preparing the abutment tooth/teeth. The dentist will remove some of the enamel and dentin from the abutment teeth to make space for the crowns.

They'll then place a temporary bridge over those teeth to protect them until the bridge is placed.

During a later appointment, the dentist will:

  • Remove the temporary crowns
  • Check the permanent crowns and bridge for a proper fit
  • Cement the bridge in place

Sometimes the bridge is permanently cemented during this procedure. Other times, the dentist may opt for temporary cement so you can take time to be sure it fits properly before it's made permanent.

Maryland Bridge

For a Maryland bridge, all that needs to happen to your abutment teeth is a little etching on the back side, which helps the wings bond to it.

Once proper fit is tested, the dentist:

  • Places the bridge
  • Bonds the metal wings to the abutment teeth with a strong resin
  • Cures the resin

Implant-Supported Bridge

An implant-supported bridge requires surgery to place the implants in your jawbone followed by time for you to heal. Healing time varies greatly depending on where in your mouth the implants are and whether your jawbone needs to be built up in order to support the implants.

You may have a temporary bridge to wear between procedures.

Then you'll have another procedure for the dentist to place the permanent bridge over the implants. This involves small incisions in the gums, so healing time is greater than with other types of bridges.

Taking Care of a Dental Bridge

Dental bridges are considered "permanent" because they're not removable like dentures, but they don't last forever. The average bridge lasts between five and seven years, but with proper care, some bridges can last more than a decade. Advances in materials and methods are likely to make them even more durable in the future.

Even so, how you take care of your bridge can have a big impact on how long it lasts.

Making It Last

Good oral hygiene is important to keep remaining teeth strong and healthy, as well as to maintain a long, healthy lifespan for your bridge. Just as with your natural teeth, it's essential to brush and floss your bridge at least twice each day.

Your dentist or dental hygienist will demonstrate how to properly floss and clean around the new bridge. In addition, it’s important to see the dentist regularly for dental cleanings and exams.

Dietary Changes

Some foods should be avoided long-term because they can cause problems for your bridge or abutment teeth. These include:

  • Chewy/sticky candy (which could pull the crowns off of the abutment teeth)
  • Hard candy or snacks
  • Sugary foods (to prevent tooth decay under the crowns)
  • Popcorn
  • Nuts

You'll need to be careful what you eat for a while after your bridge is placed. Be sure you know what you can and can't eat in the days following your procedure(s) and follow your dentist's advice.

A Word From Verywell

Although there are advantages and disadvantages to getting a dental bridge, studies have shown that with good oral hygiene and regular dental visits, a dental bridge can be a long-lasting solution to missing teeth.

However, each situation and person is different, and several factors are involved in who's a good candidate for them. Talk to your dentist about the options to decide whether you should get a dental bridge and, if so, what type is right for you.

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Article Sources
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