Cantilever bridges are one potential solution to replace a missing tooth. The American Dental Association estimates that, on average, adults between the ages of 20 and 64 have three or more decayed or missing teeth. A fixed bridge is a nonremovable, custom-made prosthetic device used to replace a missing tooth. There are several types of fixed bridges, including traditional bridges, Maryland bridges, dental implant-supported bridges and the cantilever bridge.
Imagine an architectural bridge extending from one side of a river over to the other, supported by bridge abutments on both ends. If you take away one of those abutments, you can now imagine a cantilever bridge. It's more like a diving board — firmly attached on one side and yet still able to support the weight of a person (or in this case, a tooth) at its other end.
The Cleveland Clinic explains that a cantilever bridge is used when there is only one adjacent supporting tooth. According to a study in the Journal of Dentistry, cantilever bridges are typically made of ceramic and metal or entirely of ceramic material. They are often used to replace a missing front tooth.
The Journal of Dentistry study describes several advantages of using a cantilever bridge, including:
- Good appearance: When used in the "aesthetic zone," or front of the mouth, the cantilever bridge can provide a functional and attractive replacement tooth.
- More conservative: The nature of the cantilever bridge involves fewer teeth, which means that more natural tooth structure can remain. The treatment is also reversible.
- Fewer complications: Some may argue that the more conservative nature of this restoration allows for fewer opportunities for complications compared with other treatments, such as dental implants.
- Dental health maintenance: With cantilever bridges, there's a minimal risk of developing decay around the bridge.
- Simplicity of placement: There is often no need for anesthesia during this treatment. This means cantilever bridges may also be a valid option for treating young patients, unlike dental implants.
- Low cost: Because this technique is typically more conservative and usually involves fewer teeth, it may also turn out to be less expensive, compared with other tooth replacement options.
- There is a high survival rate of up to 81.8% after 18 years.
As an article in the Journal of American Science outlines, there are also some potential disadvantages of a cantilever bridge:
- Limitations: There are stringent requirements that you must meet to have a cantilever bridge placed, including healthy gums and surrounding tissues.
- Risk of damage: The unique structure of a cantilever bridge, with one side unsupported, can lead to a higher chance of damage, cracking or debonding from the supporting tooth.
- Possibility of failure: Failures are more common when non-vital teeth are used as abutments.
If you receive a cantilever bridge to replace a missing tooth, it's important to care for it just like you would any dental restoration. Keep up with good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth twice daily and flossing once daily to protect your natural teeth, too. Removing food particles and bacteria help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. You may need some additional tools to clean under the bridge, which your dentist or hygienist can recommend.
If cared for properly, the cantilever bridge can be a very useful and effective solution to replacing a missing tooth under the right circumstances. Be sure to discuss this approach with your dentist if you ever find yourself needing a replacement tooth.