A dental bridge is a prosthetic tooth used to fill a gap left after a tooth has been lost or extracted from the jaw. A bridge only replaces the crown, which is the visible portion of the tooth above the gum line. Some bridges replace just one tooth, while others replace several. Your dentist will use cement or dental bonding to attach the bridge to the teeth on either side of the gap, anchoring it in place.
Dental bridges can be made to look very natural, so nobody will be able to tell just by looking at you that you are missing some of your natural teeth. If you care for your dental bridge properly, it can last fifteen years or more, allowing you to speak and eat comfortably.
Who Needs A Dental Bridge?
Years ago, dental bridges were the primary option for replacing missing teeth. Today, dental implants have become quite popular since they often last longer and prevent erosion of the jaw bone that can occur with other tooth replacement options like dental bridges. However, not everyone is a candidate for dental implants. If you have a weak or eroded jaw bone structure that would not support an implant, your dentist may recommend replacing your missing tooth with a dental bridge instead. Patients who heal poorly due to diabetes or autoimmune diseases may also be poor candidates for implants and can therefore benefit from a dental bridge.
A dental bridge can be used to replace a tooth that your dentist had to remove because of decay, physical damage, or an abscess. It can also replace a tooth that was knocked out of your mouth during an accident. Some people even have bridges put in place to fill gaps where adult teeth never erupted. If you are missing several teeth in a row, your dentist can design a bridge with multiple false teeth attached. In all cases, the bridge sits against your gums and is cemented or otherwise attached to the teeth on either side of the gap.
Types of Dental Bridges
Dental bridges can be classified by the type of materials used to make them. There are three common materials from which dental bridges may be made.
- Porcelain dental bridges are made entirely from tooth-colored porcelain. They are the most natural-looking choice, but are often used only for front teeth since they are a bit fragile.
- Porcelain and metal bridges are made from metal that has been covered in tooth-colored porcelain. They are a common choice for back teeth as they are stronger than all-porcelain bridges.
- All-metal dental bridges are the most affordable and are very strong, but they are often used only on back teeth because they do not look natural. And are not recommended as standard of care.
Bridges can also be classified based on the way they are fixed to the neighboring teeth and how they fit into the mouth. There are three different types of bridges, each of which works well in different situations.
This is the most common type of bridge. The teeth on either side of the gap are covered with dental crowns, which are caps that cover the entire tooth. The false tooth or teeth is attached to these crowns.
If you are missing a back tooth, or several back teeth in a row, your dentist won’t be able to simply attach the bridge to teeth on either side of the gap. In this case, he or she may recommend what is called a cantilever bridge. This style of bridge is attached to a crown only on one side of the gap. Sometimes, two or three teeth in front of the gap may be crowned to give the cantilever bridge more support. Cantilever bridges do put considerable strain on the teeth used to support them, so your dentist must insert and monitor them closely.
A Maryland bridge, also known as a Maryland-bonded bridge, is a type of dental bridge that is attached directly to the teeth on either side of the gap-without first covering those teeth in crowns. Only one or two teeth in a row can be replaced with this type of bridge, and it’s really only used for missing front teeth. A Maryland bridge may be recommended if the teeth on either side of your missing tooth cannot stand to be filed down to accommodate a crown.
What to Expect with a Dental Bridge
The process of having a dental bridge inserted is a pretty simple and painless procedure. Usually, you will need to visit your dentist at least twice for this process. During the first appointment, your dentist will prepare the teeth on either side of the gap. If they are to be covered in crowns, your dentist will file away some of the enamel, reshaping the tooth to create space for the crown. He or she will then make an impression of your teeth to send off to a lab.
The lab will use this impression to create a custom bridge for your mouth, which your dentist should receive within a few days. In the meantime, your freshly prepared teeth will be covered with temporary crowns to prevent sensitivity and damage until your bridge comes in. You should not feel any pain during this appointment because your dentist will inject a local anesthetic to numb the nerves in your teeth.
At your second appointment, your dentist will remove the temporary crowns, if present, and then cement your bridge into place. In some cases, your dentist may first use a temporary cement. This allows you to evaluate the fit and feel of the bridge in your mouth over the coming weeks. You’ll return for a third appointment during which your dentist will talk to you about the fit, make changes if needed, and then permanently cement the bridge into place.
Recovery and Dental Care After a Bridge
You might have a little sensitivity in the teeth to which your bridge is attached in the days following your appointment. This is just because your dentist has activated the nerves in these teeth while working on them. The sensitivity should wane in the days that follow. Many patients find that chewing and speaking with a bridge is a little awkward at first, especially if the teeth have been missing for some time. However, the body adapts quickly, and before long, you will be able to chew on your bridge just like you would a natural tooth.
With proper care, a dental bridge can last 15 years and often much longer. Here are some ways to properly care for your dental bridge:
- Brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes, being sure to brush around the bridge just like you would a natural tooth.
- Floss between the bridge and your gums to remove oral bacteria that accumulate in this area and may cause gum disease. Your dentist or dental hygienist can show you how to do this.
- Use an antiseptic mouthwash to help kill germs in the tissues surrounding your bridge.
- Visit your dentist for regular checkups to ensure any issues with your bridge are detected early.
There are no serious dietary restrictions that you must follow when you have a dental bridge. However, you should minimize your intake of overly crunchy and chewy foods, as these place excess strain on the teeth supporting the bridge and may contribute to shifting of these teeth over time. If you eat something sticky or gooey, try to chew on the opposite side of your mouth from the bridge.
If you ever begin to experience pain or aching in the teeth to which your bridge is attached, contact your dentist. Also see your dentist if the gums around your bridge become swollen, sore, red, or prone to bleeding. These are signs of gum disease that must be addressed to prevent decay in the teeth to which your bridge is attached.