No one likes to think about the possibility of losing a tooth. However, it’s good to know there are several options available to restore your smile should it happen to you. One of the most common of these options is to have a dental bridge inserted.
This guide to dental bridges covers the basics of dental bridges—from exactly what a dental bridge is, to the average dental bridge cost—so that you can have an informed discussion with your dentist about whether a dental bridge is right for you.
What is a dental bridge?
If you’re considering the options available to replace a missing tooth, you might be wondering ‘what is a dental bridge?’ Put simply, a dental bridge is a type of artificial tooth designed to replace one or more missing teeth. It has two main components:
- A pontic is a false tooth (or teeth) that is used to fill the gap left behind by the missing tooth.
- Crowns on either side of the pontic which secure the false tooth to the abutment teeth on either side of the gap.
While they can be made of metal or ceramics, dental bridges are typically made from porcelain to match the appearance of a person’s natural teeth.
There are four main types of dental bridge:
- Traditional fixed dental bridge. This is the most common type of dental bridge and uses crowns cemented to the abutment teeth to hold the pontic in place. It is recommended if there are healthy teeth on either side of the gap that the crowns can be attached to.
- Cantilever dental bridge. This type of dental bridge is similar to a traditional fixed dental bridge, but is held in place by only one dental crown fixed to one of the abutment teeth. This option is appropriate if there is only one natural tooth that the bridge can be fixed to.
- Maryland dental bridge. This bridge is the same as a traditional fixed dental bridge, however instead of attaching the bridge to abutment teeth with crowns, it uses a metal or porcelain framework to secure the bridge to the back of the abutment teeth.
- Implant-supported dental bridges. This type of dental bridge uses dental implants, as opposed to crowns, to secure the bridge, making it one of the strongest and most stable dental bridges available. However, it is also one of the most complex, as it typically requires two surgeries to install—one to insert the dental implant, and a second to fix the bridge to the implant.
What does having dental bridges inserted involve?
Having dental bridges fitted typically takes place over several appointments. Generally speaking, the process works as follows:
- During the first appointment, your dentist will prepare the abutment teeth by filing them down so the crowns can be placed on them. Your dentist will also take impressions of these teeth, so they can be sent away to the lab where the bridge will be manufactured. At this appointment, a temporary bridge will be attached to protect your teeth until the permanent bridge is ready.
- During the second appointment, the custom-made bridge will be fitted. The temporary bridge will be removed, and the permanent bridge tested for fit before being fixed into place with dental cement. The dental crowns and bridge may then be shaped to suit your bite.
Why do dentists recommend dental bridges?
There are many reasons dentists recommend replacing a missing tooth with either dental bridges, or an alternative such as an implant or dentures. Not only do dental bridges help to restore your smile, they can also:
- Address changes to your bite that may have been caused by losing a tooth, to ensure the force is evenly distributed across your teeth.
- Help to keep remaining natural teeth in their correct positions. Teeth have a tendency to gradually move into the space left behind by the missing tooth which can alter your bite and increase wear and tear on your remaining teeth.
- Help to return your speech to normal by removing any pronunciation difficulties you may have encountered.
- Maintain the shape of your face. Without the tooth there to support your cheek muscles, your face can change shape when a tooth has been lost.
How long do dental bridges last?
Dental bridges are best thought of as a long-term solution, rather than a permanent one, as they eventually need to be replaced. The average lifespan for dental bridges is between 5 and 7 years, however with proper dental hygiene they may last up to 10 years.
How much does a dental bridge cost?
The average dental bridge cost varies for each patient according to factors such as:
- How many teeth are being replaced;
- The material used to create the bridge;
- The complexity of the dental bridge placement, and location within your mouth; and
- Whether additional treatments for other problems (such as gum disease) are required.
However, generally speaking, the average dental bridge cost in Australia is between $1,800 and $5,000.
Pros of dental bridges
Dental bridges are a wonder of modern dentistry that have numerous advantages. Some of the many benefits of dental bridges include:
- Dental bridges help to maintain a proper bite by preventing the teeth on either side of the missing tooth from shifting position. A proper bite is essential for minimising wear and tear on teeth over time, and making it easier to chew.
- Dental bridges can improve speech impediments. Teeth play an important role in how we make sound. When a person loses teeth, they may find it difficult to pronounce certain words, or notice they have started speaking with a lisp. By filling in the gaps, dental bridges can help return your speech to normal.
- Dental bridges restore your smile and help to maintain proper face shape. By replacing missing teeth, dental bridges return your smile to its original form which can help patients to regain confidence in their appearance, particularly if the missing tooth was in a visible position. Filling gaps also prevents the soft tissue around your mouth from sagging. This can happen when a tooth is missing, resulting in subtle changes in face shape.
- Unlike dentures, dental bridges are secured in the mouth which can make them less noticeable. Similarly, unlike dentures which need to be removed for cleaning, dental bridges remain fixed and can be cleaned just like ordinary teeth (although with a bit of extra care).
Cons of dental bridges
As with any dental procedure, there are some risks and disadvantages associated with dental bridges. While proper dental care can help to minimise these risks, they are important to consider when deciding whether dental bridges are right for you. Some of the disadvantages of dental bridges you should discuss with your dentist include:
- Dental bridges require careful cleaning, which takes time and effort. In addition to cleaning your teeth as you normally would, you need to clean the area under the dental bridge with an interdental brush or floss threader, which adds time to your oral hygiene routine.
- Traditional dental bridges require the teeth on either side of the bridge to be filed down so that the crowns can be secured. Filing down the teeth can weaken them, while the crown itself can increase the risk of decay or damage to the remaining tooth and nerves.
- Dental bridges are long-lasting but not permanent. Their typical lifespan can be up to ten years, meaning they will need to be replaced at some stage. Maintaining proper dental hygiene is essential for prolonging their lifespan.
How are tooth-borne dental bridges different from implant-retained crowns?
In addition to dental bridges, dental implants are a common treatment that dentists recommend to replace missing teeth. Unlike dental bridges, which are secured in place via the adjacent teeth, dental implants involve a complete tooth root replacement. A dental implant involves a titanium post being surgically implanted into the jawbone beneath the gum, where it fuses to the jawbone allowing the false tooth to be firmly attached. This false tooth is known as an ‘implant retained crown’, as it is a ceramic tooth that is fixed to the implant.
In comparison to dental bridges, implant-retained crowns:
- Are significantly longer-lasting.
- Do not damage adjacent teeth, as they are secured to the implant and not the teeth surrounding the missing tooth. Dental bridges on the other hand require the removal of tooth structure from the adjacent teeth in order to fit the bridge. If the teeth adjacent to the missing tooth are in poor condition or need to be removed, a dental bridge may be a suitable option, however in many instances dental implants are preferable as they do not unnecessarily damage other teeth.
- Are easier to clean and maintain. Where dental bridges require specialised techniques that can be difficult for some patients to manage, implant-retained crowns can be cleaned with the same techniques that are used for the remaining teeth.
- Are easier to repair and remove as the implant prosthetic is screwed into place. Dental bridges on the other hand are much harder to repair as most dental bridges are bonded onto adjacent teeth and can be easily damaged during removal.