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While the idea is often stigmatized in our culture, statistics show that 69% of American adults have experienced at least one missing tooth by the age of 44.
Whether this comes from a failed root canal, an accident, gum disease, or tooth decay, a solution is needed to improve chewing and self-esteem.
When it comes to replacing lost teeth, dental bridges are one of the most common solutions. Here we’ll cover the types, costs, uses, and alternative treatments when it comes to dental bridges.
What is a dental bridge?
While dental bridges are increasingly common, used by millions of Americans daily, the term isn’t as familiar as procedures such as root canals or tooth extractions.
So, what exactly is this mysterious dental bridge?
Dental bridges provide an artificial tooth replacement in places where tooth loss has occurred by anchoring it to the adjacent teeth. The anchoring teeth on either side are referred to as abutment teeth, and the false tooth, sit in between them.
This provides a stable support structure to secure the new, false tooth, which is called a pontic.
Dental bridges can be made of many different materials, from metals like gold or special alloys, ceramics such as zirconia and porcelain, or a combination of these materials. The type of material can be based on cost, the location of the bridge, and the specific needs of your case.
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What does a dental bridge look like?
The exact look depends on the type of bridge you choose, which I’ll cover below.
However, the good news is that it’s easy to make a bridge look like a normal tooth. The materials and solutions available are advancing all the time to create the most seamless, natural tooth look for your bridge.
Each type is anchored in the mouth differently, and these illustrations are worth a thousand words.
Use Cases: When To Get a Dental Bridge
Dental bridges are appropriate in several situations, all of which involve missing teeth.
Whether you need a tooth extraction due to decay, you’ve damaged a tooth beyond repair due to injury or accident, or periodontal disease has damaged it, you will need to close the hole it leaves.
Leaving a hole in the mouth can cause the remaining teeth and bone to shift dramatically. Over time, a missing tooth can even change the shape of your face if left untreated.
While an implant is generally considered the best option for replacing a tooth, the price can be steep. A dental bridge may be a good second option, and some types may be preferred over an implant for younger mouths that are still growing and shifting.
A dental bridge is only a treatment option when the gap has healthy teeth adjacent to it. Read on for the types of bridges and situations that call for them.
4 Types of Dental Bridges
If you’re a prime candidate for this type of restoration, your next step will be to educate yourself on the types of dental bridges. Considering the American Dental Association estimates that most adults are missing three teeth, it’s possible you may even need more than one!
Knowing the options available to you will help you understand your dentist’s recommendations and determine which of the types of bridges is the best choice for you.
1. Traditional Bridge
As you can assume, traditional bridges are the most historically popular choice. The pontic is held in place by dental crowns placed on the natural teeth on both sides of the gap.
This is a very strong type of bridge, and can even replace a molar.
One downside is that your dentist will need to remove enamel on these adjacent teeth in order to secure the crowns.
Enamel doesn’t grow back once totally removed, so the decision to get these crowns is a permanent one. Even if you decide on a different treatment option later, these abutments will need crowns for the rest of your life.
Getting a traditional bridge is not a decision to take lightly.
2. Cantilever Bridge
A cantilever bridge differs from a traditional bridge in that the pontic, or false tooth, is only supported on one side of the gap. These are typically needed when there is more than one missing tooth adjacent to each other.
Unfortunately, this model can be less stable due to its single-sided support structure. It can lead to issues down the road, such as a loosened crown on the abutment or fractured teeth in the surrounding area.
3. Maryland Bridge
The Maryland bridge isn’t located in the northeast, but in the mouths of thousands of Americans. This conservative model has a pontic held in place by either porcelain or metal arm or wings (called the framework) surrounding the artificial tooth.
This dental bridge option is ideal for cases where the teeth haven’t finished growing, such as adolescent tooth loss. In most cases with a Maryland bridge, a more permanent bridge or even partial dentures will be used at a later date.
4. Implant-Supported Bridges
An implant-supported bridge is straightforwardly named: this bridge uses dental implants to support a bridge, usually in cases needing several artificial teeth.
This eliminates the need to use a crown on a natural tooth, and typically uses one implant per missing tooth. It’s not a good idea to use a bridge with just one implant for one tooth.
It’s an extremely strong and durable option, but an implant-supported bridge requires additional surgery to secure the implants into the jawbone.
Costs by Type and Insurance Coverage
The costs of dental bridges vary based on a number of factors:
- The number of pontics, or false teeth, needed
- The materials used in the restoration, including the types of ceramics and metals
- The level of difficulty of the restoration
- Other treatments needed, like for gum disease or tooth decay
As with any dental work, your location is a major factor in the pricing as well. The price of any dental work varies, depending on what part of the country you live in, and whether you live in a rural or urban area.
Here is the national average for each type of dental bridge:
- Traditional bridge: ranges from $2,000-$5,000 if treatment requires only one pontic and a crown on each adjacent tooth.
- Cantilever bridge: these have a nearly-identical price range to traditional bridges, but may cost a bit less due to the one less crown needed.
- Maryland bridge: this type of bridge is less expensive, typically costing $1,500-$2,500 for a pontic and the metal or ceramic framework that supports it.
- Implant-supported bridge: here, we find the largest range of pricing. The number of teeth missing is a key factor, so these can cost anywhere from $5,000-$15,000 depending on how many pontics and implants are called for.
With these costs, you’re probably asking how dental insurance coverage can help. Dental insurance can pay up to 50% of costs for your bridge work, depending on your provider. However, others can cap at a certain number, regardless of the cost of the dental bridge.
Overwhelmed at the thought of paying for dental bridges with no insurance? Check out my article on how to get great dental care with no dental insurance to discover solutions and hope!
Alternatives to Dental Bridges
The types and prices of dental bridges may leave you wondering, “Is a dental bridge right for me?”
Here are common alternatives to dental bridges that may be a better solution for you.
Always be sure to consult with your dentist when making decisions about your dental care. S/he can give you additional medical advice tailored to your situation.
Bridge vs. Implant
Here, cost isn’t a factor. If only one tooth is missing, an implant will cost roughly the same as a traditional bridge. Some factors to consider:
- Bridges don’t require surgery, while dental implants do. The procedure is faster and easier, requiring fewer visits.
- On the other hand, high-quality implants can be a lifelong investment. Bridges typically need to be replaced every 10-15 years.
- Implants prevent degradation of the jawbone leading to bone loss and possible gum problems from a missing tooth.
- However, if there are already problems with the jawbone, implants aren’t an option—they need healthy, strong bone to work.
Bridge vs. Crown
A bridge versus a crown is a more specific situation. Crowns are certainly less costly than a bridge, but these are typically used to treat different types of problems.
- If the existing teeth are able to be saved, like in the case of a chipped tooth, a crown may be available. This will go on top of your natural tooth, somewhat like a protective shield.
- I always advise saving the original tooth if it’s an option.
- A crown is unlikely to damage the surrounding teeth.
- The cost of a crown is quite a bit lower than that of a bridge, ranging from $600-$1,500.
Bridge vs. Root Canal with Crown
This one can be a tricky call. The price of a root canal can range from $500 to $2,000, depending on what’s needed, but there are many other considerations:
- I always say that no root canal is 100% clean. With a root canal, you are running the risk of a tiny fraction of remaining bacteria getting into the bloodstream. For most people, this isn’t a concern, but if your immune system is very weak, it might be a problem.
- Even though root canals aren’t a perfect solution, I nearly always recommend a root canal and crown instead of a bridge.
- While a root canal preserves the “mummified” tooth structure and a crown protects it from breaking, a tooth is fully extracted with a dental bridge and not replaced with an implant. This typically leads to at least some bone loss on either side of the open space the dental bridge crosses.
Bridges vs. Partial Dentures
A partial denture is a removable model of teeth built of plastic and metal that’s built to fit in the gap where a tooth is missing.
- Partial dentures always have the potential to damage the adjacent teeth.
- They can also pose a risk to your oral health, as food and bacteria can become packed into the gap where a tooth should be.
- While a bridge is generally my preferred option, it’s only available if the adjacent teeth are strong enough to support it.
Pros and Cons of Dental Bridges
The pros of dental bridges include:
- These can be cost-effective solutions for those who can’t afford implants.
- Bridges allow you to speak, eat, and smile without the difficulty of a missing tooth.
- Dental bridges also prevent shifting of the teeth, tongue, and bite due to a missing tooth.
- The process to get a bridge is quick and less invasive than other alternatives.
However, dental bridges also come with a few drawbacks:
- If the bridge has an issue or they aren’t fitted properly, the healthy abutment teeth can experience issues. Poorly fitted or shifting bridges can allow plaque and bacteria to creep in underneath, decaying the teeth on either side.
- The abutment teeth may also not be strong enough to support this dental bridge, and subsequently collapse.
- If the surrounding teeth become damaged by the bridge, it may leave the patient’s oral health worse than before, even needing multiple implants in some cases.
- It’s very difficult to floss with a bridge, which may lead to tooth decay or the necessity for more frequent teeth cleanings.
Dental Bridge Procedure: What to Expect
Many people are apprehensive about what to expect at any dental visit, and a big procedure like a dental bridge is no exception.
Here is what you can look for at each visit, broken down into three stages.
Before The Bridge
It’s important to note that a tooth extraction is needed before any dental bridge is placed. My complete guide to tooth extractions gives you all the details you need. However, you should be aware that you may need two days to recover from the extraction—it’s still a form of surgery.
Your dentist will probably want to wait 2-3 months to place your bridge to ensure your extraction site is fully healed.
Don’t rush it—if it’s done too soon, the bone resorption underneath the new pontic will look terrible.
Once you have decided on a dental bridge with your dentist, you’ll head to your first visit for bridge placement. During this, the abutment teeth are prepared for their crowns, which involves your dentist removing a portion of the enamel.
Impressions of the teeth will be made and sent off to a dental lab, where your permanent bridge will be crafted.
Before sending you away, your dentist will give you a temporary bridge to protect and cover the prepared teeth until your next visit. Be sure to keep it clean.
Once your customized bridge arrives from the lab, you’ll come in for your second visit.
Here, they’ll remove the temporary bridge and check your permanent one in your mouth. A few adjustments may be necessary to ensure a comfortable fit.
Finally, your dentist will cement your bridge into place, where it should last for the next several years.
Proper Dental Care for Dental Bridges
As we’ve discussed, bridges are not a permanent solution. However, good oral hygiene and regular dental checkups and cleanings every six months can affect how long your dental bridge lasts.
A dental bridge can accumulate tartar, plaque, bacteria, and gum issues if not cleaned properly, so you’ll want to learn how to care for and clean your new dental bridge.
With a dental bridge, it’s more important than ever to brush and floss twice a day. When flossing, it’s crucial to thread floss back and forth underneath the dental bridge, where plaque is prone to accumulate.
If this is proving difficult, be sure to ask your hygienist for tips on oral care for bridges. You can also try one of my alternatives to mouthwash to improve your dental health and microbiome.
Bridge Material: Are dental bridges toxic?
Many people are understandably wary of putting foreign materials into their mouth for life, such as amalgam fillings. Unfortunately, they’re not imagining things.
It’s been shown that the metal in some bridges can cause allergic reactions and autoimmunity problems. While not all bridges are toxic, I always advise ceramic options.
Talk to your dentist about any concerns with the materials in your bridge, especially metals. If possible, you should address these doubts before getting a bridge put in. It’s not unreasonable to want to know what’s going in your mouth for the next 10-15 years!
How long do dental bridges last?
Dental bridges are not a lifelong solution. On average, they need to be replaced every 10-15 years.
Is it hard to eat or speak with a dental bridge?
After a dental bridge is put in, you may experience some tenderness, but as the inflammation goes down, your eating and speaking should actually be better than when you were missing teeth!
In the meantime, I recommend trying CBD oil, coconut water, or clove oil to reduce pain and inflammation naturally.
How long does it take to get used to a dental bridge?
The time varies by patient, but many say it takes only a week or two to feel comfortable. However, a tooth extraction site and root canals can take up to six to eight weeks to heal fully.
If you are experiencing bleeding that will not stop or severe pain, call your dentist immediately.
How long do I have to wait after a tooth extraction to get a bridge?
Generally, the extraction site is given around three months to heal before a bridge is placed. The exact timing is determined by the dentist based on the reasons for extraction and oral health considerations such as gum disease.
Should a dental bridge cause pain while chewing?
Only directly after being placed. Since dental bridges are not permanent, if yours begins to cause trouble or pain, let your dentist know immediately. These issues can worsen over time.
Can I whiten my dental bridge if it no longer matches my teeth?
Whitening methods only work on natural teeth, not dental restorations. If you want to match your bridge teeth color to your natural teeth, you’ll need to replace the bridge.
Key Takeaways: Dental Bridges
Bridges are a cost-effective option for cases of tooth loss where the adjacent teeth are strong and healthy.
Dental bridges can prevent shifting of the teeth, degradation of the jawbone, and changes to the shape of the face that can occur with missing teeth.
While root canals with a crown or implants are generally my first choices, a dental bridge may be called for in certain cases, like with adolescents.
There are four major types of dental bridges: traditional, cantilever, Maryland, and implant-supported, each anchored to the mouth in a different way.
Based on treatment needed and type of bridge, the cost can range from $2,000-$15,000.
After an extraction, you can expect two or more visits to the dentist to prepare your teeth, adjust, and cement the bridge.
Many metals used in dental work can be irritating at best and harmful at worst, so discuss the materials in your bridge with your dentist if you have concerns.
Have questions about whether a bridge is right for you? Ask me.Learn More: Tooth Extraction: Cost, Risks, Procedure, Recovery Time, and FAQs
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