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

Help for lost teeth.

Help for lost teeth: Is a dental bridge or a dental implant the right choice?

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!

If you’ve been putting off a vacation and socking away money for dental care instead, there may be a way for you to carry out both goals: dental travel. A branch of medical tourism, dental travel or tourism is enjoying a solid upward trajectory worldwide.

Dental travel is not for everyone. And we can assure you it’s not something we’ll be exploring in person. Nevertheless, the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions has estimated that between the years 2012 and 2017, participation by U.S. patients traveling to other countries for medical care will grow from a low of around 8 million to anywhere from 11 to 23 million.[1]

Why travel for dental care?

Just as some businesses outsource work to areas where labor is more affordable, dental tourists take advantage of global competitiveness to achieve cost savings by traveling to less developed areas to have dental procedures performed. If you’re a US-based dentist or hygienist, you probably think the whole idea sucks – sucks even more than the suction tube you use to keep patients’ mouths dry while you work.

…dental tourists take advantage of global competitiveness to achieve cost savings by traveling to less developed areas…

For consumers, on the other hand, there are alluring reasons to explore further. For example, in the U.S., consumers may pay in the neighborhood of $3000 to $5000 for implants and a crown. In Mexico or El Salvador – which are just 2 of the nearly 50 countries that list medical tourism as a part of their national economies – the same procedures may cost consumers closer to $1000.

Not all fun in the sun…

Dental travel takes advantage of global competitiveness.

Like businesses that send work overseas, dental tourists take advantage of global competitiveness to save money.

Many people have had positive experiences with dental tourism, as the rampant growth of the industry attests. As you can probably imagine, though, it definitely pays to do your homework if you’re thinking of jumping on the dental tourism wagon.

If you’ve done much traveling, then you know: things sometimes go awry. When you’re traveling simply for enjoyment, it’s easy to take little glitches or misunderstandings in stride. They’re just part of the territory. But where health care procedures are concerned, glitches and misunderstandings are never a good thing.

Probably the biggest red-flag and best reason for avoiding dental travel, period, is the fact that different countries have different educational and licensing requirements for dentists and varying standards where hygiene is concerned. Not to mention unfamiliar laws and regulations.

Add to that the possible confusion of dealing with a second language or foreign cultural customs, and you can see that it takes a certain kind of person to really make a go of it as a dental tourist.

The cruise director is ready to see you now…

In addition to doctors, dentists, and other health care professionals, many travel agencies and online sites cater to this growing trend. Search for “dental travel,” and literally millions of links come up. You may need to take a little time off just to research all the available options adequately.

Take the time to research providers carefully. Read up on all aspects of dental travel in online reviews and recommendations. Find out all you can about the pros and cons of various destinations for this type of travel. Talk to others who have tried combining travel with medical or dental care.

…understand exactly what you may be getting into, and what recourse you may have if things don’t go as planned.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – be sure you take the time to understand exactly what you may be getting into, and what recourse you may have if things don’t go as planned. After all, it’s hardly a “vacation in the sun” – so to speak – when a dental restoration or other procedure fails as soon as – or even before – you complete the return trip home.

Been there, done that? Have you had a positive – or not so positive – experience with dental travel? We’d love to hear your comments on this growing trend in health care.

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[1] http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-unitedStates/Local%20Assets/Documents/us_chs_MedicalTourismStudy%283%29.pdf

You can break, chip, or fracture a tooth in both dramatic and mundane ways. The damage may be the result of an extreme sports mishap, or it could just as easily happen while crunching contentedly on ice. Spectators and athletes are both at risk.

Fortunately, modern dentists know how to deal with this common, sometimes uncommonly painful, problem. From filling and bonding to crowns, veneers, and root canals, your dentist has a full arsenal of possible responses ready to deploy in your defense.

Chipped tooth repair

How a dentist repairs a chipped or broken tooth depends on how bad the damage is. The length of time she’ll need to make a thorough repair also varies based on the injury. In cases with only minor harm, repair may be done in just one office visit. Injuries that are more extensive may mean more than one visit, though.

Here’s a brief overview of the chief ways your dentist may fix a chipped, fractured, or broken tooth:

Filling                     

Most people think of a filling as work that’s done to repair tooth decay. While that is often the case, when a small amount of tooth is lost, a filling may be used to rebuild the tooth to its original shape.

…when a small amount of tooth is lost, a filling may be used to rebuild the tooth to its original shape…

Fillings most often require only one trip to the dentist. Depending on the site of the tooth and other factors, the dentist will use either an amalgam (metallic looking) or a composite (white to match the tooth surface) filling. When it hardens, the filling helps to support the rest of the tooth.

Bonding

Bonding is a type of work in which a dentist applies a special plastic resin that is matched to the damaged tooth’s natural color. The resin is first applied to the tooth and sculpted. Then, it’s “cured” using a unique ultraviolet light or laser, which bonds the resin to the tooth.

Compared to veneers and crowns, which involve time-consuming and more costly lab work, bonding is relatively easy and inexpensive. The bonding procedure can most often be done in under an hour.

Dental Veneers

A cosmetic dentistry fix, dental veneers are shells of porcelain or resin composite material tailored to cover problem areas. This type of repair typically blends in with existing teeth.

Veneers are considered stronger and more natural looking than bonding. The procedure results in less removal of the original tooth than is required for crowns, but may take as many as three trips to the dentist.

Crowns

Close up of a dental technician

Some repairs involve a multi-step process.

Dental crowns (or “caps”) are used to stabilize and maintain the normal look of a tooth. A crown provides a protective layer and allows the repaired tooth to resume normal functioning. They are most often used when a tooth has been damaged so much that a dental filling would not work.

Crowns involve a multi-step procedure. First, a temporary crown is placed over the tooth while the permanent crown is made. When the permanent crown is ready, the dentist extracts the temporary crown and cements the permanent one in place. The permanent crown may need to be altered to provide a comfortable fit, and that may mean a third visit to the dentist.

Root Canal

When tooth damage leads to an infection or inflammation of the pulp, a “root canal” may be called for. Root canals may be done by a dentist or by a dental specialist called an endodontist.

A crown provides a protective layer and allows the repaired tooth to resume normal functioning.

This work begins with the extraction of the damaged tooth’s pulp. Next, the tooth is cleaned and shaped, and the root canal is sealed. After root canal work, the dentist may attach a crown or perform another type of restoration to the treated tooth.

To learn more about these and other dental terms and procedures, visit the Online Resources area.

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Look good and feel good with dental bridges.

Dental bridges don’t just help you look your best. They help you feel your best, too.

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.