A bridge is a device used to fill the space where a tooth has fallen out or been removed. A typical bridge consists of a pontic (a filler tooth) that is attached to two surrounding crowns (abutments). Once complete, this bridge structure is bonded into the mouth. Without the use of a bridge, spaces in the mouth from missing teeth can cause multiple teeth to shift, lead to occlusion (biting) and/or jaw problems, and may spur periodontal disease. Bridges safeguard the integrity of existing teeth and help maintain a healthy, vibrant smile.
Bridges usually require two trips to the dentist’s office. During the initial visit, the surrounding teeth are numbed with a local anesthetic. The dentist prepares the surrounding teeth by cleaning any plaque or decay that remains and reducing them so that the crowns can be fitted. The dentist makes a mold of the teeth and sends it off to a dental lab where the customized impression is prepared. The customized mold takes one to two weeks to return to the office. In the interim, patients are fitted with a temporary bridge constructed of acrylic resin. When the patient returns to the dental office, the dentist removes the temporary bridge and replaces it with the permanent one. The dentist then adjusts the bridge for the proper bite and fit, and the bridge is permanently bonded into the mouth.
Types of Bridges
There are several different types of bridges. The first is a fixed bridge, which consists of a filler tooth (referred to as a pontic) that is attached to two crowns. The crowns fit over the existing teeth to hold the bridge in place. The fixed bridge is the most popular bridge.
Another bridge design is a composite bond, known as a “Maryland” bridge. This type of bridge is commonly used to replace the front teeth. The pontic is attached to metal bands that are bonded to the abutment teeth and the metal bands are hidden with a white-colored composite resin.
A cantilever bridge is often used when there are teeth on only one side of the span. A typical 3 unit cantilever bridge consists of two abutment crowns that are positioned side by side on the same side of the missing tooth space. The pontic is then connected to the two crowns, which extend into the missing tooth space.
If the missing tooth space has no surrounding teeth, the dentist may decide an implant is the most appropriate choice. Please refer to Dental Implants in the Patient Education Library for more information. When a series of teeth are missing, the dentist may suggest a partial denture as the most effective way to maintain the structure of the jawbone and teeth.
Special care must be given to ensure that the gumline and area surrounding the new structure are kept clean. This is especially true because the pontic and crowns are constructed as a single piece. Special floss is often necessary to clean underneath the teeth and maintain strong, healthy gums. With proper dental care, bridges can last up to 10 years or longer.