Like dentures, partials and overdentures, which are removable devices intended to replace missing teeth, dental bridges are permanently fitted into the mouth using remaining teeth as anchors.
Dental bridges are used to replace single missing teeth, but for those with several teeth in a row missing the best choice would be partial dentures or permanent implants.
Why bother replacing a single tooth? As we grow and our permanent teeth develop, a bite pattern is developed, this means facial, neck and jaw muscles are trained to work with our own particular pattern. If a tooth is lost the rest of the teeth tend to shift, which in turn changes the bite pattern. Even tiny alterations can cause discomfort and pain in the neck, jaw and head, and can also bring about conditions such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and leave the gums and teeth open to bacteria, damage and decay.
Dental bridges immediately address these issues because they are connected to pre-existing permanent teeth and work to re-establish traditional bite patterns.
There are a few types of bridges and they are chosen based upon the amount of use the bridge will receive and the location in the mouth. There are conventional fixed bridges, cantilever bridges and resin-bonded bridges. For areas of the mouth under significantly less stress, or for those areas where only one tooth can be used as an anchor, the cantilever bridges are applied. For most applications the conventional fixed bridge is used, which requires a natural tooth on either side. The resin-bonded bridges are usually applied to the front teeth, and require healthy natural teeth on either side to which metal bands are connected with a resin material. The resin-bonded bridges do not require the teeth to receive the same preparation as the other varieties of bridges.
Currently bridges are manufactured from metal structures covered in porcelain, and this is the preferred method because of the strength of such materials. Some bridges, particularly those made for the front teeth, will be entirely made of porcelain in order to create a more natural appearance.
Natural teeth serve an important function for dental bridges; they anchor them in place and permit more stability than would be possible with the use of dentures. Conventional and cantilever bridges require the teeth on either side of the missing tooth to be thoroughly examined for any breakage, decay or gum problems.
The dentist will address any issues with the neighboring teeth before moving forward with the creation of the bridge. Once the teeth are inspected, they are then shaped and an impression is taken of the prepared teeth and the bridge will be created from this mold.
A temporary bridge is set in place while the permanent bridge is fabricated. The permanent bridge will consist of two crowns and an artificial tooth called a pontic. The entire bridge will be fitted over the prepared teeth, and it is critical that the fit is perfect because any gaps or openings between the gum line and the bridge can allow for debris or bacteria to build up and cause tooth decay.
Additionally it is important to continue with traditional oral hygiene practices to ensure the best results from a bridge. With regular check-ups and care most dental bridges will last between ten and twenty years.