An estimated 178 million Americans are missing at least one tooth, according to the American College of Prosthodontists. If you’re one of them, you may wonder about options for filling the gaps in your smile. Dental bridges, also known as fixed partial dentures, are one-way dentists may replace missing teeth. Read on to learn how dental bridges compare to implants, dentures, and crowns, and how to choose the tooth replacement option that’s best for you.
Dental Bridge vs. Dental Implant
Dental bridges are used to fill or “bridge” the gaps left by one or more missing teeth. The most common type is a traditional fixed bridge. It may be used when you have one or more healthy teeth on either side of a missing tooth or gap. A traditional fixed bridge involves one or more replacement teeth, known as pontics, with crowns on either side. The crowns are cemented on top of the healthy teeth to secure the bridge. A similar option, the cantilever bridge, is held in place by just one crowned healthy tooth.
Dental implants are a surgical option for replacing missing teeth. They’re made of a metal post that’s surgically implanted in the jawbone and a replacement tooth that’s securely attached to the post. An implant replaces both the missing tooth and its root, so it looks and functions like a natural tooth, explains the American Academy of Periodontology.
There’s a tooth replacement option that combines dental bridges and implants: the implant-supported bridge. Also known as partial dental implants, this option is similar to a traditional fixed bridge, but with one big difference. Instead of the bridge being held in place by crowns on adjacent teeth, it’s secured by dental implants.
When are these bridges used? Your dentist might recommend an implant-supported bridge if you’re missing several teeth or don’t have enough healthy teeth to support a traditional bridge. See the Example in the image above on the right.
Choosing Between a Dental Bridge vs. Dental Implant
If you have a missing tooth, your dentist may offer a traditional fixed bridge or a dental implant to fill the gap. To decide which option is right for your needs, consider the following differences between a tooth bridge vs. implant:
- To place a traditional fixed bridge, your dentist will need to reshape the healthy teeth that will receive the crowns. No reshaping is necessary with dental implants.
- Dental implants are surgically implanted in your jawbone. Traditional fixed bridges are a non-surgical option as they are cemented to your teeth.
- Dental implants may last for decades, according to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry. Dental bridges generally last five to seven years.
Tooth Bridge vs. Dentures
Dentures are another possible option for replacing missing teeth. There are two main types of dentures: complete and partial. Let’s take a look at these denture options.
Complete dentures, also known as full dentures, are the type you probably think of when you imagine dentures. These removable appliances fit over the gums and are used if you’re missing all of the teeth in your upper and/or lower jaws. Your dentist may recommend complete dentures if you don’t have any natural teeth that could support a bridge.
Partial dentures are used to replace one or more missing teeth. They’re also known as removable bridges. These removable appliances have one or more replacement teeth and a pink plastic base that fits over your gums. Partial dentures attach to your natural teeth with a metal framework and clasps. In some cases, partial dentures may be held in place by precision attachments. These attachments are more natural-looking than clasps but may cost more.
See image, below on the left.
Choosing Between a Dental Bridge vs. Partial Denture
Both dental bridges and partial dentures could be used to fill the gaps left by missing teeth. When choosing between these two tooth replacement options, you might want to consider the following differences:
- Traditional fixed bridges are cemented in place by your dentist, while you can put in and take out partial dentures on your own.
- Partial dentures don’t require any changes to adjacent teeth, but with traditional fixed bridges, your dentist will need to reshape these teeth to make room for crowns.
- A dental bridge that’s secured by crowns has a natural appearance, while the metal framework that holds a partial denture in place may be more noticeable.
Dental Bridge vs. Tooth Crown
A dental crown is a tooth-shaped cap that’s cemented on top of a damaged or decayed tooth. Crowns cover the entire visible portion of the tooth and could be made of various materials, from shiny gold to tooth-colored resin or porcelain. Dentists may place crowns for a long list of reasons, including:
- Restoring a severely decayed tooth.
- Saving a cracked or broken tooth.
- Protecting a tooth after root canal treatment.
- Concealing a severely discolored tooth.
- Restoring a tooth that’s been worn down by clenching or grinding.
Dental crowns could also be used to support dental bridges. When crowns are used as part of a bridge, the crowns are placed on the teeth on either side of the gap in your smile. The gap is filled by a false tooth (or teeth) attached to the crowns.
Choosing Between a Dental Bridge vs. Crown
Dental bridges and crowns serve different purposes, and your dentist can tell you which option is best for your situation. Dental bridges are used to fill gaps in your smile. Some types of bridges are anchored by crowns, while others are held in place by dental implants or a metal framework. Crowns could be used to treat a wide variety of dental problems, from large cavities to cracked teeth.
Dental Bridge After Care & Recovery
If you decide to get a dental bridge, you may wonder what to expect after the procedure. Your dental bridge recovery time may vary depending on the type of bridge your dentist places. Here’s what the recovery period for some common types of bridges might look like:
- Traditional fixed bridge. Since the procedure involves reshaping the teeth that will receive crowns, you may experience some discomfort once the anesthesia wears off. The crowned teeth may be sensitive, especially to hot or cold foods and drinks. A tooth that’s received a crown should feel normal within just a few days.
- Implant-supported bridge. After getting dental implant posts placed, you may feel pain at the implant site. Other post-surgery discomforts could include bruising or swelling of your gums and skin, as well as some minor bleeding. Your surgical site may take around two weeks to heal.
- Removable bridges. When you first get partial dentures, they may feel bulky or uncomfortable in your mouth. This should go away as you get used to wearing your new bridge. If you feel gum pain or discomfort, let your dentist know. This could mean your new removable bridges need to be adjusted.
Your dentist will provide dental bridge after-care tips to help you manage any discomfort or sensitivity. Depending on the type of procedure, they could recommend steps such as taking over-the-counter pain medications or following a soft foods diet. Some soft, nutritious foods to eat after dental procedures include yogurt, scrambled eggs, sliced ripe fruits, and cooked vegetables.
How To Take Care of Dental Bridges
Dental bridges generally last for around five to seven years, Cleveland Clinic notes. But if you take good care of your bridge, it could last for more than 10 years.
Maintaining good oral hygiene is an important part of caring for your natural teeth, and it’s important for a dental bridge, too. Remember to brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day. A floss threader may make it easier to floss underneath a fixed bridge — your dentist or dental hygienist can show you how to use one.
Your dentist may recommend avoiding hard or sticky foods that could damage your bridge. Some examples include popcorn, chewy candies, and crunchy vegetables like celery or carrots. Steering clear of foods that could cause problems may help you maximize the life of your bridge.
When you have a bridge, it’s especially important to see your dentist regularly. These regular visits give your dentist the opportunity to check the bridge and make sure it’s still working well. If problems are detected early, they may be easier to fix. For example, if your dentist notices your bridge is loosening, they may be able to simply re-cement it to your teeth.
Find a Dentist for Dental Bridges Near You
Dental bridges, as well as dentures, crowns, and dental implants, can restore the look and function of your smile. To learn more about your options for replacing missing teeth, talk to your dentist. If you don’t have a dentist and you're asking yourself where to find a trusted dentist near me, our Find a Dentist tool can connect you with Smile-Generation trusted dental offices in your community.