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What is a dental bridge?

A dental bridge is a fixed appliance used to replace one or more missing teeth. It is cemented into place and can't be removed by the person.

How is a dental bridge made?

As the name implies, the bridge is made out of three (or more) pieces fused together that fit into the open space in the mouth, "bridging" the gap. Most bridges are made of a false tooth or teeth called pontics. They are held together by two crowns or “caps” that fit over the natural teeth on both sides of the space called abutments. Crowns cover and support teeth and look similar to their normal size and shape. These three pieces are then cemented to the support teeth on each side of the gap. In some cases, a bridge may be supported by dental implants rather than natural teeth.

Who is a candidate for bridges?

Many people who have one or more missing teeth are candidates for a dental bridge. The teeth that will support the bridge must be in good health and have good bone support. But the difference between correct and incorrect oral hygiene is an important factor in the success of the dental bridge.

What are the different types of dental bridges?

There are several different types of dental bridges. Your dentist or oral health specialist will recommend the one that's best for your mouth condition and the location of the missing tooth or teeth.

  • Traditional bridge. As described above, this bridge is made up of a false tooth held together by two crowns. The three pieces are then cemented to the surrounding teeth on each side of the gap.

  • Resin-bonded bridge or Maryland bridge. The false teeth are bonded to the back of the teeth on both sides of the gap with metal or porcelain wings to span the gap. This procedure is common when the teeth missing are in the front of the mouth. This is a conservative approach. But it has a higher failure rate than traditional bridges.

  • Cantilever bridge. This type of procedure is appropriate only when there is only one tooth to act as support for the tooth being replaced. It's not as strong as a traditional bridge since it's only supported by a natural tooth on one side. This one-sided support sets up a "lever" effect. This can weaken the supporting tooth over time. This type of bridge will have a higher success rate when placed with the false tooth in a more front position in the mouth than the supporting tooth. It's also advisable to have cantilever-type bridges in the front of the mouth, rather than the back. That is because biting compression forces are greater in the back of the mouth.

Oral health care and bridges

The following advice will help to prevent oral health problems while your teeth are restored with a bridge:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day for 2 minutes each time with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. This helps to prevent tooth decay and remove any food lodged in the bridge or gums. These may lead to more problems resulting in the loss of the bridge.

  • Floss daily. Your dentist or other oral health specialist may recommend using a floss threader to carry floss under the false tooth so that it and the supporting teeth can be cleaned. If you're not sure how to floss, ask your dentist or hygienist to show you.

  • Have your teeth cleaned every 6 months by an oral health provider, or as instructed.

  • See your dentist as soon as possible if you have:

    • Pain with chewing

    • Sores (ulcers) or tender areas in the mouth that don't heal after a week or two

    • Bleeding or swollen gums after brushing or flossing

    • Receding gums

    • Chronic bad breath

    • Sudden sensitivity to hot and cold foods or drinks

    • Pain or toothache

    • Loose teeth

  • Limit how much sugar and starches you eat. Debris left behind from these types of foods may turn into damaging acids, which can cause cavities.

  • Don't eat hard and sticky snacks. This includes foods such as popcorn kernels, hard or chewy candy, caramel, ice chips, and nuts.

  • Buy toothpaste that has the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. This tells you that the product is safe and works well.

Most bridges last more than 10 years with the correct care.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
  • Michael Kapner MD
  • Rita Sather RN