Losing a tooth through an accident or injury or as a result of decay can be very traumatic. It can affect the way you look and the way you speak, as well as compromising your ability to chew. Furthermore, the gap left by the missing tooth can strain the teeth on either side causing them to lean into the gap, trapping food debris and causing further decay.
To improve appearance and function, and to prevent further damage, your dentist may recommend a dental bridge to fill the gap.
This article on the dental bridge is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
What is a dental bridge?
A dental bridge is a false tooth (called a pontic) that’s used to fill the gap. Unlike traditional removable dentures, a dental bridge is permanent as it’s anchored to the teeth at one or both, sides using metal bands held in place by resin or cement. If well cared for, a dental bridge should last for 10 to 15 years.
There are three types of dental bridge: fixed, resin bonded, and cantilever. The type of bridge used will depend on the quality of the teeth on either side of the gap, as well as the position of the gap.
With a fixed bridge, the false tooth, or pontic, is anchored to new crowns attached to the teeth either side of the gap. These crowns are usually made from porcelain with the new tooth made from either ceramic or porcelain. This forms a very strong bridge that can be used anywhere in the mouth.
Resin Bonded Bridges
Sometimes called Maryland Bonded, these dental bridges do not involve crowning the adjacent teeth, so are useful where these show little or no previous damage. The new tooth is generally made from plastic and is attached via metal bands bonded to the adjacent teeth using resin. This type of bridge is particularly suitable for front teeth where stress is minimal, and the bond can be made out of view behind the teeth.
These dental bridges are used where there is a healthy tooth only on one side of the gap. The bridge is anchored to one or more teeth on just one side. As a result, this type of bridge is generally only suitable for low-stress bridges such as front teeth.
How your bridge is fitted
It will take at least two visits to your dentist to have a dental bridge fitted and adjusted correctly. On your first visit, preparatory work will be done, such as making space for new crowns for a fixed bridge. Your dentist will then take a mould of your teeth from which your bridge will be made. On your next visit, your bridge will be fitted and adjusted to ensure a correct bite. It is unlikely your dentist will permanently fix your bridge until you’ve worn it for a few weeks and are both happy with the fit and feel. It will then be fixed permanently into place.
Even the best fitting bridge will still have gaps around and beneath it, and these can quickly accumulate damaging debris if you do not follow a strict hygiene regime. You should pay particular attention to the false tooth that forms the bridge, cleaning and flossing regularly. Extra care should also be given to the supporting teeth either side of the bridge, as without these, the bridge will fail.
There is a range of specially adapted tools to help you access the awkward areas around a bridge, and your dentist or hygienist will be happy to demonstrate these for you.
With several visits, expert manufacturing, expensive materials, and much skilled craftsmanship, it will come as no surprise that dental bridgework can be very costly. Private dental bridges can cost upwards of £800, depending on the number of visits involved and materials used.
It’s possible to have dental bridgework done on the NHS, but this will still fall into the top band of £198. What’s more, the quality of materials may not be as high as you might get privately. For example, it is unlikely that you’d be able to get a porcelain pontic as an option with an NHS bridge.
The only alternatives to a dental bridge are dentures or implants. Single tooth dentures can be uncomfortable and awkward where only one or two teeth are involved, and are not generally recommended for this purpose. Dental implants involve having a false tooth fixed to a titanium post that has been screwed into the jawbone. This can be an expensive and invasive process and is only suitable to people who are medically fit, with healthy gums and thick jawbones.