Types of Dental Bridges & Procedure Steps

What is a Dental Bridge?

A dental bridge is a fixed (permanent) restoration that replaces one or more missing teeth in your mouth. Dental bridges mimic the look, shape, and function of natural teeth. They are also custom-made for every patient.

In more serious cases, a patient may need multiple dental bridges. This is called "full mouth rehabilitation." If you have a lot of teeth missing, your dentist may recommend dentures instead.

Most dental bridges are made of porcelain. They are attached to a metal structure for support. Other dental bridges are made of “all-ceramic,” which is a combination of porcelain and other materials that are similar in appearance.

Before dental bridge placement, your dentist or prosthodontist will remove a certain amount of tooth structure from the abutment teeth. Abutment teeth refer to the teeth supporting the dental bridge on each side. The amount of tooth structure removal required for dental bridges is the same for both the front and back teeth.

Summary

Dental bridges replace one or more missing teeth. They consist of a false tooth/teeth and abutment teeth that support the dental bridge on each side.

When is a Dental Bridge Necessary?

Almost 70 percent of adults between 35 and 44 years of age have lost at least one tooth from gum disease, an injury, tooth decay, or a failed root canal.

Most dentists recommend bridges over implants if the patient already has existing dental crowns on the abutment (supporting) teeth. They may also recommend a dental bridge if you cannot get implants for medical reasons.

Similar to dental implants, patients may need a dental bridge after a tooth extraction or tooth loss, typically due to:

Summary

A dental bridge may be recommended if you've lost teeth due to decay, trauma, gum disease, certain medications, or natural aging.

4 Types of Dental Bridges

There are four types of dental bridges, including:

1. Traditional Bridges

Traditional dental bridges are the most common type of dental bridge. They consist of ceramic, porcelain fused to metal, or all-metal like gold.

These bridges have one fake tooth, also called a pontic, that a dental crown holds in place on each side.

dental bridge with crowns in upper jaw

During a traditional dental bridge procedure, your dentist will shape and file the two teeth next to the fake tooth. This ensures the two dental crowns fit correctly. Traditional bridges are durable, strong, and last a long time with proper care.

Traditional bridges are typically used to restore posterior (back) teeth, such as premolars and molars.

2. Cantilever Bridges

Cantilever bridges are similar to traditional bridges because they are made of porcelain fused to metal.

However, to support a cantilever bridge, a patient must have one natural tooth next to the missing tooth.

dental cantilever bridge and healthy tooth in gums

In a cantilever dental bridge, a dental crown (artificial tooth) is placed over the unhealthy tooth on either side. This type of bridge is typically used to restore front teeth. Cantilever bridges aren’t strong enough to support molars (back teeth).

3. Maryland Bridges

Maryland bridges, also called adhesive bridges, are less invasive than traditional dental bridges.

They consist of a pontic (fake tooth) that is supported by a metal framework.

teeth with dental maryland bridge

Maryland bridges are made of porcelain. They also have “wings” that bond to the adjacent teeth, which keeps the bridge stable. Today, most Maryland bridges have porcelain wings, instead of metal wings (pictured above). Porcelain looks almost identical to the color of your natural teeth.

Less tooth removal is necessary for Maryland bridges because they attach to the backside of the front teeth next to the missing tooth. Other types of dental bridges require more tooth structure removal before placement.

Maryland dental bridges are used to restore incisors (front teeth). They are rarely used to restore missing molars or canines. This is because canines are very important to your bite and Maryland bridges can shift or loosen easily.

4. Implant-Supported Bridges

Implant-supported bridges are supported entirely by dental implants, instead of a metal framework or dental crowns.

This type of bridge is typically used to restore back teeth, such as premolars and molars.

jaw and implants with dental bridge

Implant bridges are ideal for patients who have at least three missing teeth (back molars) in a row.

Summary

There are four types of dental bridges: traditional, implant-supported, Maryland, and cantilever. The one you need depends on your oral health standing, budget, and how many teeth need to be replaced.

Dental Bridge Procedure: Step-By-Step

Dental bridge procedures are separated into two appointments:

First Visit — Tooth Preparation and Temporary Bridge

During the first appointment, a local anesthetic is administered to ensure you are comfortable and do not feel any pain during the procedure.

Then, your dentist will shape and file the abutment teeth. All abutment teeth (teeth supporting the bridge) are prepared like a dental crown. This means all of the enamel and any additional tooth structure is removed to create a clear path to the other tooth.

After the teeth are shaped, impressions are made and sent to a dental laboratory. This is where your custom dental bridge is created.

While the permanent bridge is being made, the dentist will place a temporary bridge over the newly shaped teeth and gap. If the surrounding teeth are not strong enough to support a bridge, dental implants will be placed into your jawbone (implant-supported bridge).

Second Visit — Permanent Bridge Placement

Once the permanent bridge is ready for placement, you will return for the second appointment.

First, your dentist will remove the temporary bridge and clean your teeth. If there is any sensitivity or pain, a local anesthetic will be administered before removing the temporary bridge.

Your dentist will also take x-rays of the bridge to ensure it fits properly. Then, the bridge and teeth are bonded together using special dental cement.

Summary

Dental bridge placement typically consists of two appointments.

How to Care for a Dental Bridge (Aftercare Tips)

Here are some tips to keep your dental bridge in great shape:

Oral Hygiene Tips

The aftercare routine for dental bridges and dental crowns is similar. Although, extra oral hygiene techniques are necessary after a permanent bridge is placed. This is because the area where the pontic (fake tooth) rests on the gums is difficult to clean, which can result in plaque buildup.

Patients should rinse with mouthwash often, brush at least twice a day, and regularly floss underneath the bridge. Doing so helps reduce inflammation and prevent cavities at the edge of the bridge.

Flossing between a dental bridge requires additional tools, such as floss threaders, super floss, or water flossers.

Pain Maintenance

Traditional, Maryland, and cantilever bridges are relatively painless procedures. Some patients may experience gum swelling or tenderness. Dentists recommend taking over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, to manage the pain.

Implant-supported bridges require minor surgery, which may result in tooth sensitivity, gum tenderness, and jaw swelling for the first few days after surgery.

Food: What Not To Eat

While your permanent bridge is being made, your dentist will place a temporary bridge in your mouth to protect the newly shaped teeth. During this transition period, avoid eating or chewing:

  • Sticky or chewy foods, such as gum and candy
  • Hard foods, such as nuts and chips
  • Ice cubes

It is also essential to chew on the opposite side of your mouth while the temporary bridge is in place. After the permanent bridge is applied, you should still avoid eating sticky and hard foods for 24 hours after the procedure. You can return to normal eating habits after this period.

Summary

It is essential to practice optimal oral care after bridge placement (you can still get cavities at the edge of a bridge).

Dental Bridge vs. Implant: Which is Right for You?

A dental implant is an artificial tooth root. It is a popular tooth replacement option after someone loses a tooth due to injury, decay, or extraction. Implants are surgically implanted into the jawbone and mirror the shape of a screw. They bond with your natural bone and are topped off with a dental crown (artificial tooth crown).

A single implant is a great option if you have one missing tooth. However, if you have more than one missing tooth, a dental bridge may be the better option.

Dental implants and dental bridges both replace missing teeth. Although similar, the costs and outcomes of the procedures vary. Read below to compare:

Advantages of DENTAL Implants:
  • Require less maintenance
  • Look more natural
  • Protect the jawbone
  • Do not strain or wear down teeth over time
Disadvantages of DENTAL Implants:
  • They require more invasive surgery
  • A single tooth implant is slightly more expensive than a 3-unit bridge
  • The recovery time is longer
  • They can fracture or break
Advantages of DENTAL Bridges:
  • The procedure is quicker and doesn’t require invasive surgery (unless the bridge is supported by implants)
  • Recovery time is faster
  • More affordable
Disadvantages of DENTAL Bridges:
  • Do not look as natural as implants
  • Must be replaced periodically
  • More prone to fractures and decay
  • Damage natural teeth (surrounding teeth)

How Much Does a Dental Bridge Cost?

The cost of a dental bridge depends on the type chosen, the dental crown cost, and if you have insurance. Insurance can cover up to 50 percent of the total cost of a dental bridge.

Traditional or Cantilever Dental Bridge
$2,000 to $5,000 — includes one pontic and two dental crowns
Maryland Dental Bridge
$1,500 to $2,500 — includes one pontic and the framework
Implant-Supported Dental Bridge
$2,500 to $6,500 — per implant

Dental Bridges: Common Questions & Answers

Here are some frequently asked questions about dental bridges:

How long does a dental bridge last?

A dental bridge can last between five and 15 years (sometimes longer) with proper care. If you maintain great oral hygiene and visit your dentist for regular cleanings, your bridge can last for many years.

Is getting a dental bridge painful?

A dental bridge procedure is relatively painless because your dentist will use a numbing agent before the surgery begins. However, you will likely feel some minor discomfort after the numbing agent wears off.

Is a bridge better than an implant?

It depends. An implant is a great option if you have just one missing tooth. A bridge is a better option if you have more than one missing tooth. Implants are also more natural-looking but bridges are typically less expensive.

How much is a bridge for one tooth?

Most people pay between $300 and $1,000 for a single tooth bridge.

Is it difficult to eat with a dental bridge?

Dental bridges typically do not make it more difficult to eat properly. But fixed bridges often provide better chewing function than removable bridges.

Will a dental bridge change how I speak?

Temporary speech impairment may occur with a new dental bridge. However, this will resolve within a few days to weeks.

Resources

“Dental Implant Surgery | AAOMS.” AAOMS Official Site | Experts in Face, Mouth, and Jaw Surgery, myoms.org/procedures/dental-implant-surgery.

Hollins, Carole. Basic Guide to Dental Procedures. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

Syrbu, John DDS. The Complete Pre-Dental Guide to Modern Dentistry. 2013.

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