What Are Dental Bridges?
A dental bridge is a prosthetic composed of a false tooth known as a pontic and two anchoring dental crowns, or abutments. The crowns are secured to the teeth on either side of a gap, anchoring the pontic in place of the missing tooth. The dental bridge is so called because it “bridges” this gap; though the pontic is secured with dental cement to prevent bacterial buildup between the prosthetic and the gums, there is no physical connection between the false tooth and the jawbone. Though bridges can be made from a variety of materials, including silver amalgam or gold, they are commonly made from porcelain for aesthetic considerations.
Placing a Dental Bridge – The Procedure
There is a multi-step process for placing dental bridges. If you are missing one or more teeth and are considering a solution, dental bridges may be right for you. However, you should be willing to commit to the following procedure:
Step 1 – Preparation of the Teeth: A dental bridge is anchored to existing teeth on either side of the gap being treated. These teeth must be prepared so that they can receive the abutment crowns. In order to provide space for the crowns – which are tooth-shaped prosthetics that fully encapsulate existing teeth – and to ensure a suitable bonding surface, the teeth on either side of the gap must be resized. This step is permanent; though the crowns can be replaced if necessary, they cannot be removed.
Step 2 – Taking an Impression of the Teeth: Once the surrounding teeth have been sufficiently modified so that the crowns can be placed over them, an impression will be made. The impression can be either digital or accomplished through the use of traditional dental putty; the method that is employed will depend on your dentist. Once this impression has been taken, it will be used to design and fabricate your dental bridge. Your prosthetic can be fabricated in a dental laboratory by trained ceramists or in-house through the use of a computerized milling machine. As with your impression, the technology that is employed will depend on the dentist.
Step 3 – Placing a Temporary Bridge: While your permanent bridge is being fabricated, a temporary bridge will be put in its place to serve as a placeholder. This temporary bridge will provide you with the functionality and appearance of your permanent prosthetic, and help safeguard the teeth that have been reshaped against damage or decay.
Step 4 – Receiving Your Permanent Dental Bridge: Once your dental bridge has been fabricated (in the case of in-office design and fabrication, this can be accomplished in a single dental visit), you will return to your dentist’s office to have your temporary prosthetic removed and your permanent bridge placed. The crowns will be securely anchored to the teeth on either side of the gap with dental cement, and the pontic will be secured to the gum tissue to prevent bacterial incursion.
Candidates for Bridges
Anyone who is missing one or more teeth is a candidate for a dental bridge. The surrounding teeth and gum tissue should be in good overall health, as they will serve as the foundation for the replacement prosthetic. Though a dental implant can also be used to treat a missing tooth, individuals who are hesitant to undergo oral surgery may find that dental bridges better suit their needs, as unlike a dental implant, the placement of a bridge requires no oral surgery. Though the anchoring teeth are modified to receive the abutment crowns, no drilling of the gum or bone tissue is necessary for the placement of a bridge.
Alternatives – A Single, Implant-supported Dental Restoration
The most common alternative to a dental bridge is a single restoration supported by a dental implant. An implant is a titanium post that is drilled directly into the jawbone to serve as an artificial tooth root. With the help of an abutment, a dental prosthetic such as a crown or bridge can be secured to the implant to serve as an artificial tooth. Because the implant is secured into the jawbone itself, it can provide decades, and in some cases a lifetime, of support. In effect, the dental implant becomes a new tooth, helping to prevent bone reabsorbment in the affected area and allowing for a durable, long-lasting, stable solution to your missing tooth.
However, it should be noted that dental implants are more expensive than traditional bridges, and the placement process involves oral surgery and a long healing process. For these reasons and more, some individuals are hesitant to undergo dental implant surgery. Bridges are an effective solution for the treatment of one or more missing teeth, and for many men and women, are both more convenient and affordable.
Considerations: Weighing the Risks and Benefits
The risks associated with dental bridges are low. However, to place dental bridges, the teeth surrounding the gap must be permanently reshaped to provide room for the anchoring dental crowns that hold the pontic in place. This permanent reshaping of healthy teeth is reason for some individuals to explore alternative treatment options, such as dental implant-supported crowns. If at some point in time you would like to replace your dental bridge with an implant-supported prosthetic, it will be necessary to place crowns on the teeth originally used to anchor the bridge in place, as they would otherwise be susceptible to damage and decay.
The benefits of a dental bridge are many: it restores the functionality, health, and appearance of your smile; it prevents your teeth from shifting out of place to fill in the gap left by your missing tooth; it can be placed non-surgically, and once in place provides immediate support; and perhaps most simply, it’s a beautifully effective solution. A missing tooth can impair dental function, cause you to feel self-conscious about your appearance, lead to malocclusion and TMJ if left untreated, and make the gums at high risk for bacterial infection – a dental bridge eliminates all of these risks.
What are the Costs Associated with Dental Bridges?
The cost of a dental bridge will depend on a variety of factors, including the materials used, whether the bridge is designed and fabricated in-office or in a dental laboratory, the complexity of the placement procedure, and on the dentist’s experience placing bridges. Typically, a bridge can range in cost from $500 per artificial tooth to as much as $1,200 per tooth. Thus, a bridge with only one pontic will cost less than a bridge with two or three pontics. The best way to determine the cost of a dental bridge is to consult with a qualified and experienced dentist.
Unlike many purely elective procedures, dental insurance may cover in full or subsidize the cost of dental bridge treatment, as a missing tooth can greatly impair a person’ s oral health. If there are out-of-pocket expenses, however, it may be possible to finance these through companies such as CareCredit®, which specialize in financing of medical and dental procedures.