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Dental Bridge

Authored by:
Reviewed by: Paul Amato, DDS

Dental bridges, or fixed partial dentures, literally bridge the gap where teeth have been lost or are missing. The most common bridge will replace one missing tooth. The bridge will attach to the teeth adjacent to the space, which are called the abutment teeth. The false tooth between the abutment teeth is called a pontic.

Dental bridges are perfect for restoring the ability to properly smile, chew, and speak, and for preventing adjacent and opposing teeth from drifting into the empty space. A bridge can be made of porcelain, gold, or a combination of porcelain and gold. Most dental insurance plans will cover a percentage of the cost for a dental bridge. A bridge can last five to fifteen years with good oral hygiene and regular dental visits.

The Dental Bridge Procedure

During your initial visit, your abutment teeth are numbed and prepared. Generally, preparation involves reshaping the abutment teeth to make room for the bridge to be placed over them. Next, the dentist will take an impression of your prepared teeth. The impressions are sent to a dental lab, where an expert dental technician fabricates the dental bridge by following instructions from your dentist. After the impression has been taken, your dentist and dental assistant will make a temporary bridge to protect your teeth and gums while your permanent dental bridge is being fabricated at the dental lab. The permanent bridge takes the dental lab two to three weeks to make.

On your next visit to the dentist, the temporary bridge is removed, the abutment teeth are polished to remove the temporary cement, and the permanent bridge is tried in. The try-in process involves adjusting the bite, evaluating the fit of the bridge, and evaluating the esthetics. If the bridge meets all these criteria, it will be cemented permanently. In the unlikely event that it does not, a new impression will be made. The temporary bridge is re-cemented and the patient is reappointed.

Types of Dental Bridges

There are several types of bridges:

Fixed: The crowns on the ends of fixed bridges are permanently cemented onto abutment teeth. To do this, the dentist will first trim the abutment teeth down with a drill. Next, an impression is made and sent to a dental lab where the bridge can be fabricated. Typically, temporary crowns are placed on the abutment teeth until the bridge is sent back to the dentist. Fixed bridges are usually made of some type of metal, such as gold. For esthetic purposes, porcelain may be fused onto the metal. Although fixed bridges are strong, they can come loose when chewing sticky foods. In most cases, however, the bridge is permanent unless removed by a dentist.

Cantilever: This type of bridge is used when there are no teeth behind a missing tooth. Cantilever bridges have a pontic tooth attached to the crown of an abutment tooth on one side only. For added strength, two abutments are usually used on one end. Although cantilever bridges are not as strong as fixed bridges, they are fabricated and adhered in the same way.

Removable: Removable bridges consist of false teeth that are anchored to the adjacent teeth with metal clasps. Typically there is minimal trimming of the adjacent teeth. Depending on your lifestyle, this may be the type of bridge for you. They are not as esthetically pleasing as other types of bridges, however, as the metal clasps may be visible. They are also not as durable as fixed or cantilever bridges, and they must be removed for cleaning.

Maryland: This type of bridge gets its name from its developers—dentists from the University of Maryland. It’s a new type of bridge that requires minimal trimming of adjacent teeth. The Maryland bridge is fabricated in a similar fashion to fixed bridges, but rather than crowns, it has metal wings that are bonded to the inside surfaces of the abutment teeth. Once the bridge has been fabricated and sent back to the dentist, the abutment teeth are acid-etched on the inner surfaces only. Using chemicals and high-intensity light, the metal wings are bonded to the abutment teeth, making them invisible to others. Typically, this type of bridge is used on front teeth that have no cavities, cracks, or other problems. Although there are many benefits, Maryland bridges are known to come loose and need re-bonding.

Bonded: Bonded bridges are fabricated the same way fixed bridges are; an impression of the abutment teeth is taken and sent to a dental laboratory. The difference between fixed and bonded bridges is that fixed bridges are cemented onto abutment teeth and bonded bridges are bonded. Bonded bridges are also made of porcelain, giving them a more natural look. Because they do not contain metal, however, they are not as strong. Chemicals and high-intensity light are used to bond the crowns of the bridge to the abutment teeth.

Dental Bridge Cost

Most dental insurance plans will pay a percentage of the total cost for dental bridges. This cost will be determined by the type of material used to make the bridge, the potential need for additional procedures, and the location of the dentist. Dental bridges vary in cost, and can be up to $3,000 per tooth. Caring for your dental bridge is critical to ensuring that it lasts for a long time. Your dentist and hygienist will educate you in the care of your bridge.

What do Dental Bridges Fix?

Dental bridges not only fill the gap between missing teeth, they also prevent tooth movement, which can lead to Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ), Gum disease, or Malocclusion.

Dental bridges are usually used when one to three teeth are missing. They are used for esthetic purposes—improving one’s smile—and for practical purposes, such as improving one’s ability to chew food properly. They also maintain the shape of your face, restore your ability to speak clearly, and properly distribute the force of your bite.

Caring for a Dental Bridge

You should care for your dental bridge the same way you care for your natural teeth. Dental bridges should be brushed twice a day with a toothbrush. Floss is also recommended. Removable bridges should always be removed to be cleaned, then reinserted. It is important to stay away from sticky foods when possible. Bridges may become loose if you chew gum or eat sticky foods like taffy.

Talking to Your Dentist

  • Am I a good candidate for a dental bridge?
  • Which type of dental bridge would benefit me most?
  • How much do dental bridges cost?
  • Which materials will be used to create my dental bridge?
  • What are some of the disadvantages of dental bridges?
  • Will I need to change my eating habits with this type of dental bridge?
  • How often will I need to see you about my bridge?
  • What do I do if my dental bridge breaks?

Page updated September 2012



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