Are you missing one or more teeth? If so, you’re not alone. The American Dental Association reports that average adults between 20 and 64 years old have three decayed or missing teeth. Fortunately, you have multiple options for replacing these missing teeth, including dental bridges. Here we dive into what a dental bridge is and discuss four types of bridges that your dentist may recommend.

What is a bridge and how does it work?
A bridge may be suggested if you are missing teeth. Bridges are fixed prosthetic devices that literally bridge the gap created by one or more missing teeth. Gaps left by missing teeth eventually cause the remaining teeth to rotate or shift into the empty spaces, resulting in a bad bite. The imbalance caused by missing teeth can also lead to gum disease and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. Bridges are commonly used to replace one or more missing teeth. They span the space where the teeth are missing. Bridges are cemented to the natural teeth or implants surrounding the empty space. These teeth, called abutments, serve as anchors for the bridge. A replacement tooth, called a pontic, is attached to the crowns that cover the abutments. As with crowns, you have a choice of materials for bridges. Your dentist can help you decide which to use, based on the location of the missing tooth (or teeth), its function, aesthetic considerations and cost. Porcelain or ceramic bridges can be matched to the color of your natural teeth. Unlike removable devices such as dentures, which you can take out and clean daily, bridges are cemented onto existing teeth or implants, and can only be removed by a dentist.

How are bridges made?
Before a bridge can be made, the tooth (or teeth) must be reduced in size so that the bridge will fit over it properly. After reducing the tooth/teeth, your dentist will take an impression to provide an exact mold for the bridge. If porcelain is to be used, your dentist will determine the correct shade for the bridge to match the color of your existing teeth. Using this impression, a dental lab then makes your bridge, in the material your dentist specifies. A temporary bridge will be put in place to cover the prepared tooth while the permanent bridge is being made. When the permanent bridge is ready, the temporary bridge is removed, and the new bridge is cemented over your prepared tooth or teeth.

How long do bridges last?
While bridges can last a lifetime, they do sometimes come loose or fall out. The most important step you can take to ensure the longevity of your bridge is to practice good oral hygiene. A bridge can lose its support if the teeth or bone holding it in place are damaged by dental disease. Keep your gums and teeth healthy by brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and flossing daily. Also see your dentist and hygienist regularly for checkups and professional cleanings. To prevent damage to your new bridge, avoid chewing hard foods, ice or other hard objects.

What types of bridges are there?

  • Traditional Dental Bridges: Traditional bridges are the most popular kind of bridge. These bridges consist of one or more pontics (fake teeth) and are held in place by dental crowns. These dental crowns are also called abutments, and they are cemented onto the teeth adjacent to your missing tooth. Traditional bridges can be used when you have natural teeth on both sides of the gap created by your missing tooth. Bridges are even strong enough to replace molars. The downside of traditional bridges is that your dentist will need to prepare the adjacent teeth by removing their enamel to make room for the crowns that will be cemented on top. Since enamel doesn’t grow back, these teeth will always need to be protected with crowns, even if you later choose a different type of bridge.
  • Cantilever Bridges: Cantilever bridges are another option for replacing missing teeth. They are very similar to traditional bridges, but the pontic is supported by an abutment on only one side, rather than on both sides. So, if there’s only one natural tooth next to the gap, a bridge can still be secured. Like traditional bridges, your dentist will need to prepare the adjacent tooth to support the bridge by removing its enamel. Because these restorations are only supported on one side, they may act as a lever in some cases. This may lead to complications like fractured teeth or loosened crowns.
  • Maryland Bridges: Maryland bridges are considered a conservative alternative to traditional bridges. These bridges consist of a pontic that is held in place by a metal or porcelain framework. This framework is bonded onto the backs of the two teeth adjacent to the missing tooth. Since this type of bridge isn’t held in place by crowns, the adjacent teeth don’t need to be filed. While Maryland bridges are more conservative than traditional bridges, they do have their downsides. The strength of the bridge is limited by the strength of the resin that holds it in place, so it may not hold up as well in areas of the mouth where the teeth are subjected to a lot of biting force, like the molars. The framework may also get in the way of your gums or your bite.
  • Implant-Supported Bridges: Implant-supported bridges are another option for replacing missing teeth. They can be used when you have more than one tooth missing. Instead of being supported by crowns or frameworks, these bridges are supported by dental implants. Usually, one implant is placed for every missing tooth, and this series of implants holds the bridge in place. However, the bridge may consist of a pontic suspended between two implant-supported crowns if placing one implant for every lost tooth isn’t possible. Because these bridges are secured by implants, they feel very secure and comfortable, just like the natural teeth they replace. And just like your natural teeth, a quality toothbrush is needed to keep your mouth healthy. One downside is that two surgeries are required to place the implants – the first to place the implants and the second to place the bridge – so expect to wait at least five months to get your finished bridge.

Your dentist can close the gaps in your smile with dental bridges. With so many types of dental bridges available, you can feel confident that your dentist has an appropriate solution for your missing teeth.

If you have any questions about dental bridges, call Winning Smiles to schedule an appointment with your dentist – 716-332-2444.