A dental bridge is a common treatment option for replacing missing teeth. Bridges literally bridge the gap created by one or more missing teeth.
A dental bridge is a fixed restoration that replaces one or more missing teeth by spanning the space where the teeth are missing. The bridge is made up of two or more crowns that are placed on the teeth on either side of the gap. These crowns serve as anchors and are cemented onto the existing teeth. False teeth called pontics are fused between the crowns to fill the gap left by the missing tooth or teeth.
The bridge is custom crafted from gold, alloys, porcelain or a combination and is permanently attached to the surrounding teeth. Unlike removable devices like dentures, bridges cannot be taken out of your mouth.
Benefits of Dental Bridges
There are several benefits to choosing a permanent bridge over a removable partial denture:
- Bridges prevent surrounding teeth from shifting position. When a tooth is lost, teeth next to the gap may tilt or drift into the empty space. Bridges hold neighboring teeth in their correct position.
- They are fixed in place and do not need to be removed for cleaning like removable dentures.
- Bridges allow you to eat normally without restrictions since they are securely attached.
- They restore your smile and allow normal speech. Loss of teeth can cause a sunken appearance in the mouth and slurred speech or mumbling.
- Bridges can help prevent bone loss in the jaw that occurs after losing teeth. The bridge transfers chewing forces to the bone to prevent atrophy.
The Parts of a Traditional Bridge
A traditional dental bridge has three main parts:
The crowns are the anchoring part of the bridge. They are cemented onto the teeth on either side of the missing tooth space. The crown covers the entire visible part of the tooth down to the gumline. Your dentist will file down the teeth on either side of the gap to accommodate the crowns that will attach to them. The crowns are custom made to match your existing teeth and may be fabricated from metal, ceramic, zirconia or a combination.
The false teeth between the crowns that fill in the gap are called pontics. There are several types of pontics:
- Traditional Pontic: This is usually made of porcelain fused to metal beneath. It is the most common type.
- Implant-Supported Pontic: This pontic attaches to a dental implant or implants to fill in the space.
- Resin-Bonded Pontic: This type bonds to the inside of the neighboring teeth and is typically made of porcelain.
- Cantilever Pontic: This is used for the back molars only when there is no tooth behind the gap to act as an anchor. The pontic extends over where the missing molar would be.
- Connectors – The connectors hold the crowns and pontics together. They are usually made from precious metal alloys for strength and longevity.
The Traditional Bridge Process
Getting a dental bridge is a multi-step process involving more than one dental visit. The main steps include:
Impressions and Fitting
During the first visit, the dentist will take impressions of the teeth on either side of the gap. These will be used to fabricate the crowns and pontics in a lab. You’ll wear temporary crowns while the permanent bridge is being made. At the following appointment, your dentist will check the fit of the bridge and make any adjustments needed before bonding it permanently.
Crowning the Anchor Teeth
The abutment teeth that will hold the bridge must be prepared by reshaping them to accommodate the crowns. The crowns fully cover the visible part of the teeth down to the gumline. Your dentist will remove around 1-2 millimeters of outer enamel so the crowns can fit over them.
Bonding the Bridge
In your final visit, the bridge is tried in to ensure proper fit before cementing it in place. Your dentist will make any final adjustments needed, then thoroughly clean the teeth and bridge before permanently bonding them using dental cement.
Caring for Your Bridge
With good oral hygiene at home and regular dental visits for professional cleanings, you can expect your bridge to last many years, potentially ten to fifteen years or more. Be sure to brush and floss very thoroughly around crowns and pontics to prevent decay and gum disease.
Alternatives to Traditional Bridges
While traditional bridges with crowns and pontics are most common, other options exist:
For these, the pontics are anchored to dental implants fixed in the jawbone, eliminating the need to crown healthy teeth. The process involves surgery and healing time for the implants to integrate with the bone.
Also called a Maryland bonded bridge, these feature wings on the pontics bonded to the back of neighboring teeth. This is the least invasive option but is not recommended for large gaps or those needing high biting force.
Which Bridge is Right for Me?
The best type of bridge depends on several factors your dentist will help you determine, including:
- Number and location of missing teeth
- Condition of abutment teeth
- Jawbone density to support implants if applicable
- Cosmetic concerns about metal versus porcelain
For large spaces where multiple teeth are missing, a bridge may not be the best treatment. Dental implants or partial dentures often work better for larger tooth gaps. Talk to your dentist to decide which option is most appropriate for your unique case. They can fully explain the various types of bridges and whether one would restore your smile.
Bridges Restore Your Confident Smile
Missing teeth can negatively impact your appearance, speech, and bite. Replacing lost teeth with dental bridges restores these functions for an attractive, healthy smile. A bridge literally bridges the gap where teeth have been lost to provide a seamless, natural-looking smile. With proper care, your bridge can give you back the beautiful, complete smile you deserve. Consult with your dentist to determine if a bridge might be the right tooth replacement solution for you.