Teeth are no different than the rest of the body; as you age, they're prone to numerous health conditions that can wear away the glimmer of a healthy mouth. Those who don't have the look they'd like – due to tooth loss or advanced decay – might consider a dental bridge, just one item that can help restore your natural smile. Here are the ins and outs of a dental bridge procedure.
A dental bridge is a prosthetic apparatus used to span any area of the mouth where one or more teeth are missing. It's accompanied by a crown on each end of the bridge. Also referred to as a cap, this crown connects to the teeth on both sides of the space that needs to be filled. A false tooth (or set of teeth in the event of a wider gap) then connects to both crowns and fills this spot where one's natural teeth are missing.
Determining Your Need
A bridge might be necessary as the result of tooth loss, whether it occurs from periodontal disease or physical trauma to the mouth resulting from a sport or similar accident. If missing teeth aren't replaced, the remaining teeth can shift into these gaps, distorting one's normal bite. An imbalance of teeth can also cause gum disease or temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
Choosing the Right Type
There are three main types of bridges: traditional, cantilever and Maryland. A traditional bridge has a crown connected to each side of the artificial tooth. A cantilever bridge is an artificial tooth connected to only one crown, and a Maryland bridge is an artificial tooth bonded to existing teeth on both sides.
Desensitizing and Reshaping
The dental bridge procedure is a multi-step process that takes more than one visit to the dentist. Once you're in the chair, your dentist injects a local anesthetic into the gum tissue adjacent to the tooth next to the bridge. The dentist then reshapes the teeth that will house the crowns, either by filing down sections of the tooth or filling them. These crowns need to fit securely in order to hold the bridge in place.
Fitting a Substitute
When the teeth have been sufficiently reshaped, your dentist will make an impression of the missing tooth and the surrounding teeth. This impression is sent to a laboratory to customize a bridge that fits your mouth exactly. Until the bridge is developed and returned to the dentist's office, you should therefore receive a temporary bridge secured by cement to fill the empty space. The permanent bridge should arrive at your dentist's office within a few weeks, at which time you'll attend a follow-up visit to have the permanent bridge placed. Some of the placement involves making sure the bridge doesn't interfere with your bite alignment.
Preserving the Bridge
The life of a dental bridge can surpass 10 years with good home care, according to 1-800-DENTIST. One of the reasons bridges fail earlier than this is because cavities can form in the crowned teeth. So, a proper oral routine should include brushing, flossing and regular dental checkups to ensure even "bridged" teeth are in perfect health. Be sure to use a toothpaste to protect against this hidden decay.
If you think you need a dental bridge procedure, or if you have other oral health concerns, make an appointment with your dentist for a consultation.