A bridge, also called a “fixed bridge” or a “fixed dental prosthesis”, is a dental restoration that replaces one or more missing teeth. Even a single missing tooth can adversely affect the appearance and functionality of your smile. Missing teeth can cause a change in occlusion (bite), shifting teeth, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), speech impediments, an increased risk of periodontal disease and a greater chance of tooth decay. A bridge extends across an area that has no teeth and is typically made up of an artificial tooth fused between 2 crowns (a crown is a hollow artificial tooth that fits over a natural tooth or a dental implant). The bridge is held firmly in place by your teeth on each side of the missing one(s) or by dental implants. A bridge is permanent and cannot be removed.
A bridge is created as follows:
- If you have healthy teeth on each side of the missing tooth (or teeth), your dentist files down the two healthy teeth to prepare them for the bridge. If you don’t have healthy teeth or enough teeth to support a bridge, then dental implants may be surgically placed. A dental implant is an artificial root made of titanium metal that is inserted into the jawbone to replace the rest of the natural tooth. The implant acts as an anchor to hold an artificial tooth or bridge in place.
- Next your dentist takes impressions (moulds) of your teeth and sends them to a highly-skilled dental technician who makes a model of your teeth. The model is used to custom-make the artificial tooth (or teeth) and two crowns as one piece. This piece is called a bridge.
- Meanwhile, your dentist places a temporary bridge in your mouth to protect the exposed teeth and gums.
- During your second visit, your dentist removes the temporary bridge and places the custom-made bridge in your mouth. The crowns are either cemented to your two healthy teeth or attached to your dental implants on each side of the missing tooth (or teeth).
There are different types of dental bridges. Your dentist will recommend the most appropriate one depending on the location of the missing tooth (or teeth) and the condition of your teeth, mouth and gums.
Traditional bridges are used if there are natural teeth on each side of the gap where the tooth is missing. As an alternative to a bridge, your dentist may suggest a single implant to replace a missing tooth between two healthy teeth. An implant will prevent you from having to get your healthy teeth filed down in preparation for the crowns.
Implant bridges (see “Implant dentistry” section of our website for more information) are used if you don’t have healthy teeth or enough teeth to support a bridge, or when several or all teeth are missing. A custom-made bridge is anchored to the dental implants. Your dentist will first determine if dental implants are right for you.
Resin-bonded bridges, also known as “Maryland” bridges, are used when the missing teeth are in the front of your mouth. This type of bridge involves the artificial teeth being fused together by metal bands and cemented to the back of your natural teeth.
Cantilever bridges are used when there are healthy teeth on only one side of the missing tooth or teeth. This procedure includes anchoring the artificial tooth over one or more of your natural adjacent teeth.
If you take good care of your bridge, it should generally last for about 10 years, or perhaps longer. Like natural teeth, bridges need to be brushed and flossed every day. Your dentist will show you how to use a floss threader to floss under and around the artificial tooth (or teeth) in the middle of the bridge. Regular dental visits and professional cleanings are also important. If you have an implant bridge, your dentist will show you how to properly care for it.