Like all technologies, dental technologies come and go, with newer, more efficient treatments surmounting the old. That’s what’s happening with dental bridges. Once considered state of the art, the use of dental bridges is being pushed to the sidelines as dental implants are increasingly taking center stage.
What’s the difference between bridges and implants? Why are implants taking the lead, and are there exceptions when bridges are preferred over implants?
Dental Bridges: An Overview
Bridges, or fixed partial dentures, as they are sometimes called, typically replace a missing tooth or teeth by permanently attaching the replacements to neighboring teeth. While a relatively costly procedure, as dental practices go, bridges – like implants – offer important health benefits. These include helping people to speak without impediment, supporting the ability to chew and digest food more effectively, and preventing teeth above or below the gap from “erupting” or drifting out of their correct positions.
One of the drawbacks to dental bridges it the sheer amount of “real estate” they take up. That’s because bridges, at their most basic, consist of three parts: two crowns that attach to the two teeth on each side of the gap, and the false tooth (or teeth, in some cases) called a “pontic” or “pontics” that fill or “bridge” the gap.
Another drawback to this procedure is that parts of the healthy neighboring teeth must be removed to make room for the crowns that will hold the pontics in place.
Finally, while it is of course highly important to take proper care of the bridge, the way bridges are made makes it very difficult to do so.
Dental Implants: The Emerging Standard
Unlike the suspension bridge-like approach used in dental bridges, dental implants use prosthetic “roots” to fasten artificial teeth permanently to the jaw. Rather than being fashioned of ceramic, as is frequently the case with bridges and crowns, dental implants are made of substances very similar in texture to bone. This means their appearance and the way they feel in the mouth are very similar to actual teeth.
Because implants do not require a connection to the neighboring teeth, subsequent care is easier than with a crown. This increases the likelihood that good oral hygiene can be practiced and oral health maintained more effectively than with a bridge.
Finally, dental implants generally outperform bridges in terms of longevity, making them the superior long-term solution. That also means that while the procedure may be more costly up front, they typically end up being more economical than dental bridges in the long run.
Exceptions: When are bridges preferred over implants?
There are some instances when – despite all the up sides – it makes more sense to go with a bridge rather than an implant. For example, people who have unhealthy gums or who have insufficient healthy bone to support the attachment of dental implants are often advised to consider a bridge instead.
To learn about other dental technologies, be sure to check out our Dental Resources section.
Do you have a bridge or dental implant? How has it changed your life for the better? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comment section below!
There are good reasons why people get dental bridges, or “fixed partial dentures.” When a dentist replaces a tooth or teeth with a bridge, she mends not only your smile but also your health.
If gaps between teeth are not filled in, or “bridged,” your face can lose its natural shape. Chewing with teeth missing can cause the force of your bite to be misdirected, too. This can make the teeth above or below the gap start to “erupt” or drift out of position. That, in turn, can make it hard to chew and speak.
So you see, a bridge does not just fill a gap: it can help you look your best, speak properly, chew correctly, and even digest food better.
Three types of dental bridges
At their most basic, bridges have three parts. First, there are the two crowns that go on the two teeth on each side of the gap. Next, there is the false tooth or teeth that fill the gap. Dental pros call these false teeth “pontics.” A pontic can be made from many materials such as gold or metal alloys, ceramics, porcelain, or some mix of these.
Bridges come in three main types. The basic type described above is called “traditional.” This type is the most common. In most cases, they are made of ceramic or porcelain fused to metal.
When there are no teeth on one side of the gap, a “cantilever” bridge may be used. This type is held in place by a brace on just one side of the gap.
When the gap to be bridged is in the front of the mouth, a “Maryland bonded bridge” may be used. This type may be called a “resin-bonded bridge.” It is made of plastic held in place by a metal frame that is bonded to the teeth on each side.
Dental pros make the three main types of bridges outside the mouth. Then, they place them in the mouth when done. They call this the indirect method. In some cases, though, dentists have been known to build a bridge inside a patient’s mouth using composite resin.
How are dental bridges made?
Your dentist will complete a dental restoration with a bridge in several steps. She does this over the course of several visits. First, the teeth that anchor both ends of the bridge must be prepared. These must be reduced in size a bit and re-shaped for the crowns to fit over them. How much the anchor teeth need to be changed depends on the type of material that will be used for the bridge.
During the same visit, your dentist will make a mold of your teeth. The dental lab will use this to make your bridge. You’ll receive a temporary bridge, too, which will help protect you while the lab does its work.
Even if everything feels perfect to you, your dentist may only temporarily cement the bridge in place for the first few weeks until she is certain it fits as it should.
At the next visit, your dentist will remove your temporary bridge. She will also check the fit of your permanent bridge and make adjustments as needed. She may send the bridge back to the lab to make sure it fits right. Even if everything feels perfect to you, your dentist may only temporarily cement the bridge in place for the first few weeks until she is certain it fits as it should.
How to care for your new dental bridge
A lot of work goes into a dental bridge. After the dust has cleared (okay – there is not really going to be any dust…), proper care is a must to protect your investment and keep your teeth healthy.
Home dental care with a bridge is not really that much different than without a bridge. Your new bridge will depend on the strength of surrounding teeth to remain workable. That means it’s as important as ever to brush and floss correctly and regularly. This will help you prevent gum disease or tooth decay in the teeth you still have.
It may be a little tricky to brush and floss with a bridge, but your dentist or dental hygienist will be happy to show you the best way to keep your smile dazzling.
Do you already have a dental bridge? How has it changed your life for the better? Let us know in the comment section below!
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To learn about other dental technologies, be sure to check out our resources section.