Missing teeth lead to gaps between teeth, and these gaps can cause the teeth on either side to shift. Over time, it’s even possible for teeth to “tip” into the space. Dental bridges are one of several options available to restore missing teeth, and prevent teeth from becoming displaced due to gaps.
What Are Dental Bridges?
A dental bridge is a prosthetic designed to replace one or more adjacent missing teeth. They literally bridge the space left by the missing tooth.
Bridges are held in place either by attaching to remaining healthy teeth on either side of the gap, or by connecting to dental implants.
A dental bridge is made up of three or more crowns bonded together. The crowns that replace the actual missing teeth are solid and sit over the gum. The remaining two crowns at either end of the bridge are what are used to anchor the bridge in place.
Materials used to make dental bridges include porcelain, metal alloy, gold, or a mixture of the above. Different materials are more expensive, but generally the more you pay, the more durable the prosthetic.
For example, gold crowns on dental bridges might seem like a flashy option for people to show off their wealth. In reality, gold is actually a very useful material for tooth restorations and gives some of the longest-lasting results.
Dental Bridge Process
There are two methods, depending on how the final bridge will be set into the mouth.
Tooth Supported Dental Bridges
Impressions are taken of your mouth to make a stone copy out of. This copy is what the lab team will use to design and fabricate the bridge.
Once the copy as been made, the healthy remaining teeth on either side of the gap are shaved down into stumps. This is to allow the dental crowns to be cemented on top and anchor the bridge in place. These are referred to as the “abutment” teeth.
After the bridge has been manufactured it’s tested to see if it fits well into the mouth. A poor fit will result in discomfort and possible injury to your teeth and gums. Poorly-fit crowns can even result in broken teeth, so it’s important to get this step right.
The bridge may be sent back for adjustments. When the dentist and patient are satisfied that the bridge is a good fit it’s set in place by cementing the crowns to the abutment teeth.
Implant Supported Dental Bridges
Firstly, any teeth that need to be extracted are extracted. It might be the case that the teeth are already missing and don’t need extraction, however.
Then comes the implant procedure. This involves inserting two or three dental implants into the jaw (see below for an explanation of what dental implants are) and letting them heal. How many implants are necessary depends on how many teeth are being replaced at a time.
Once the healing phase is done, a copy is made of the mouth and the lab manufactures the bridge.
Finally, instead of connecting to healthy teeth, the crowns at either end of the bridge are connected directly to the dental implants.
Dental Implants — A Quick Explanation
Dental implants are the gold standard for single tooth restoration and replacement. They’re the closes thing, aesthetically and functionally, to a real tooth that has yet been devised.
A dental implant contains several parts. The first and most important part is the implant itself. This takes the form of a titanium screw that is inserted into the jaw where the root of a tooth used to be.
Titanium is used because of its biocompatibility and durability. What that means is that it won’t provoke an immune response from your body and be rejected, causing severe pain and inflammation.
Once the bone has healed around the implant, a connecting point — or ‘abutment’ — is attached to the implant.
The last part of the implant is a prosthetic. When replacing a single tooth, this would be a single crown. In this case, a dental bridge is connected to the abutments on the implants at either end of the bridge.
It’s even possible to replace an entire arch of teeth by connecting a denture to four or more implants.
Anyone can get a standard dental bridge so long as they have healthy teeth that can support the prosthetic. If there aren’t sufficient healthy teeth, a partial or whole denture may be the only option.
Dental implant supported bridges have more contra-indicators due to the implants themselves. Patients who
- Are diabetic
- Have pronounced gum disease
- Have insufficient bone volume
- Have an existing medical condition which would otherwise make them unsuitable for oral surgery
are not ideal candidates and should consult with their dentist beforehand.
Benefits of Dental Bridges
Dental bridges have a lot of restorative and cosmetic benefits.
Restoring your smile
Many people lose self-esteem and self-confidence when their dental health is in poor shape, or if their teeth are in bad condition. Restoring missing teeth brings back a healthy, confident smile.
Giving you the ability to chew and speak properly
Depending on which teeth are missing, gaps in your teeth can result in difficulty speaking or chewing effectively.
Maintaining the natural shape of your face
Missing teeth can sink the lips and cheeks depending on where they’re missing from. Moreover, gaps that are left too long will cause other teeth to tip over and your jaw to reshape. Dental bridges help maintain the shape and structure of your mouth for longer.
Prevent further damage to remaining teeth on the opposite side of your mouth through uneven distribution of bite force
When you lose teeth on one side of your mouth, you instinctively use the other side more to eat and chew. This puts excessive pressure on the teeth on that side and may result in damage and breakages.
You can catch yourself doing this even with a full set of teeth next time you have a toothache. You’ll notice yourself favoring the other side to relieve the pain.
Prevent teeth on either side of the gap from drifting out of position
Tilting teeth can create a lot of complications later, which can often only be solved through extraction.
Cons of Dental Bridges
The only real downside to traditional dental bridges is the need to shave down otherwise healthy teeth to act as abutments for the prosthetic. It’s always best to leave your natural teeth in place unchanged unless absolutely necessary.
This can obviously be avoided by using implant to support the bridge, but implant supported bridges are considerably more expensive and not suitable for all patients.
Dental Bridges FAQ
Are dental bridges painful?
No. There might be some initial discomfort as you adjust to having the bridge in place, but there shouldn’t be any pain. Your “abutment” teeth — the ones that get shaved down to support the bridge — will be understandably sensitive at first, but all discomfort passes fairly quickly. If the bridge hurts you, it’s a good sign it’s not fitting properly or something’s gone wrong, and you should speak to your dentist.
Are dental implants painful?
General anaesthetic is used during the procedure. There is some post-operative pain associated with dental implants, but it’s generally very manageable and doesn’t last more than a few days.
Why do I need to fill gaps in my teeth?
Jaws and gums grow and change over the years, even as adults. Leaving gaps, both between the teeth and in the jawbone itself, will result in that gap collapsing eventually.
This can lead to a variety of complications which can be much more time-consuming, not to mention expensive, to treat than if you’d fixed the gap originally.
Why do you need to shave down my healthy teeth?
It’s important for the dental crowns that go over the abutment teeth to fit in your mouth properly. Dental crowns are a great restorative and cosmetic treatment when used correctly. If they’re not fitted properly they can cause injury to the surrounding tissue. You may even break a tooth.
What if I only need to replace one tooth? Can I still use implants?
Yes, however it should be said that if:
- you’re only missing a single tooth
- the teeth on either side are healthy
- you’re a suitable candidate for implants
- can afford the implant
you actually don’t want a dental bridge. Instead, you’d replace the missing tooth with the implant, and simply fit it with a single crown at the end. This is the most common way to use dental implants for tooth restorations and maintains the healthy teeth on either side.