What is a dental bridge?

Dental bridges serve as a solution for replacing missing teeth. By anchoring onto neighbouring teeth or dental implants, these prosthetics "bridge" the gap, restoring both function and aesthetics to the patient's smile.

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Dental bridges are custom-made, ensuring they blend seamlessly with the patient's natural teeth in terms of shape, size, and colour. This personalized approach not only enhances the smile's appearance but also provides a comfortable fit, crucial for long-term wear and functionality. 

The importance of replacing missing teeth cannot be overstated, as it prevents the remaining teeth from shifting, maintains facial structure, and ensures proper chewing and speech.

What are the main 4 types of dental bridges?

The four main types of dental bridges include:

  • The traditional dental bridge, where a false tooth is held in place by dental crowns on adjacent teeth.

  • The cantilever bridge, which is supported by a crown on only one side of the missing tooth.

  • The Maryland dental bridge, using a metal or porcelain framework bonded to the backs of adjacent teeth, provides a less invasive solution.

  • The implant-supported bridge, which uses dental implants as anchors for each missing tooth, offering unparalleled stability and mimicking natural tooth roots for the most natural feel and function. 

Traditional dental bridge

The traditional dental bridge is a prevalent choice for replacing one or more missing teeth. It consists of one or more pontics (false teeth) that are held firmly in place by dental crowns attached to the abutment teeth on either side of the gap. This type of bridge requires the abutment teeth to be reshaped and reduced in size to accommodate the crowns, ensuring a secure and stable fit. 

Traditional bridges are made from a variety of materials, including porcelain fused to metal or ceramics, chosen to match the colour and appearance of natural teeth. They are favoured for their durability, functionality, and the way they seamlessly blend with natural teeth, offering a solution that is both aesthetic and functional.

Cantilever dental bridge

The cantilever dental bridge is an alternative solution when there are teeth present on only one side of the missing tooth or teeth gap. Similar to the traditional bridge, the pontic in a cantilever bridge is held in place by a dental crown that is cemented to a single abutment tooth. Due to its design, the cantilever bridge applies force on the anchor tooth, making it crucial that the supporting tooth is healthy and strong. 

While cantilever bridges are a viable option in cases where a traditional bridge is not possible, they are generally used for teeth that undergo less stress, such as the front teeth, to minimize the risk of damage to the supporting tooth.

Maryland dental bridge

The Maryland dental bridge represents a conservative alternative to traditional bridges, notably preserving the structure of adjacent teeth. This type of bridge utilizes a framework made from metal or porcelain that is bonded onto the back of the adjacent teeth, effectively anchoring the pontic in place without the need to file down the neighbouring teeth. 

Maryland bridges are often used to replace front teeth, where the biting forces are minimal, and the preservation of tooth structure is paramount. The non-invasive nature of this bridge makes it a preferred choice for patients seeking a less permanent solution that maintains the integrity of their natural teeth.

Implant-supported bridge

Implant-supported bridges offer the most advanced solution for replacing multiple missing teeth, providing unmatched stability and longevity. This type of bridge is supported by dental implants rather than crowns or frameworks. An implant is surgically placed for each missing tooth, and these implants serve as the foundation for the bridge. 

Implant-supported bridges are highly durable, function like natural teeth, and do not require support from adjacent natural teeth, thus preserving the natural tooth structure. This option is particularly beneficial for patients looking for a long-term solution that closely replicates the feel, function, and appearance of their natural teeth, making it an ideal choice for both aesthetic and functional tooth replacement.

The pros and cons of a dental bridge

Dental bridges offer the significant advantage of restoring aesthetics and function following tooth loss. They prevent remaining teeth from drifting, which could lead to bite issues and further dental problems. Bridges are also less invasive than implants and do not require surgery, making them a quicker solution for many.

However, bridges also have their downsides. They typically require the alteration of adjacent healthy teeth to support the bridge and may not last as long as dental implants. Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure their longevity, and they might need to be replaced every 5 to 15 years.

How are dental bridges fitted?

The process of fitting a dental bridge typically involves two or more visits to the dentist. The process usually consists of the following steps:

  • The abutment teeth are prepared by reshaping these teeth to accommodate the crowns. 

  • Impressions of the teeth are then taken, which serve as a model from which the bridge, false tooth, and crowns will be made by a dental lab. 

  • During the second visit, the custom-made bridge is checked for fit and comfort, with adjustments made as necessary. 

  • Once the fit is verified, the bridge is cemented into place, restoring the patient’s smile and functionality.

The procedure is relatively straightforward but requires precision and customization to ensure the bridge functions correctly and matches the natural appearance of the patient's teeth.

How long does it take to recover after a dental bridge procedure?

Recovery time after a dental bridge procedure is generally short, with most patients resuming their normal activities within a day. After the placement of a dental bridge, some patients may experience mild soreness or sensitivity around the treated area, which typically subsides within a few days. 

Over-the-counter pain relievers can manage any discomfort, and patients are advised to eat soft foods and avoid extremely hot or cold beverages for a short period after the procedure. It's crucial to follow the dentist's care instructions to ensure a smooth recovery and the longevity of the bridge.

What are the alternatives to dental bridges?

While dental bridges are a popular solution for missing teeth, several alternatives exist, including dental implants and partial dentures. Dental implants offer a permanent solution, replacing the tooth root with a titanium post that integrates with the jawbone, topped with a crown for a natural look and feel. Partial dentures are removable appliances that can replace multiple teeth and are less invasive than bridges or implants. 

Each alternative has its benefits and considerations, such as cost, treatment duration, and patient preference, making it essential to consult with a dental professional to determine the best option based on individual needs and oral health.

Frequently asked questions

Is a dental bridge or implant better?

The choice between a dental bridge and an implant depends on various factors, including the patient's oral health, the condition of the surrounding teeth, jawbone density, and personal preferences. 

Dental implants are considered more durable and preserve the jawbone's integrity, but they require surgery and a longer treatment time. Bridges, on the other hand, are less invasive and faster to place but may need replacement every 5 to 15 years. Consulting with a dental professional is crucial to determine the best option for individual needs.

How many teeth can be on a bridge?

A dental bridge can replace one or several missing teeth. The number of teeth that a bridge can replace typically depends on the location of the missing teeth, the health and stability of the adjacent teeth, and the patient's overall oral health. Generally, most bridges replace one to four teeth, with the need for stronger support, such as implants, increasing with the number of teeth being replaced.

What’s the ideal age for a dental bridge?

There's no specific "ideal" age for a dental bridge. Dental bridges are suitable for adult patients of any age who have lost one or more teeth and have healthy adjacent teeth or sufficient bone structure for implants (in the case of an implant-supported bridge). The key considerations are the overall oral health and specific dental needs rather than the patient's age.

Can a dental bridge be removed and recemented?

Yes, a dental bridge can sometimes be removed and recemented, especially if it becomes loose or detached. However, this is a procedure that must be performed by a dental professional. The feasibility of cementing a bridge depends on the condition of the bridge and the underlying teeth or implants.

How long do bridges on teeth last?

With proper care and maintenance, dental bridges can last 5 to 15 years or even longer. The longevity of a dental bridge depends on the bridge's material, the health of the supporting teeth, and the patient's oral hygiene practices. Regular dental check-ups and cleanings, along with good oral hygiene at home, can extend the life of a dental bridge.

How do you clean a fixed dental bridge?

Cleaning a fixed dental bridge involves regular brushing and flossing, just like natural teeth. Special flossing tools, such as floss threaders or water flossers, may be needed to clean under the pontic (the false tooth) and along the gums. 

It's essential to keep the bridge and the adjacent teeth clean to prevent decay and gum disease, which can affect the longevity of the bridge. Your dentist can provide specific recommendations on the best cleaning practices for your particular bridge.