When you are missing several teeth in a row, you need a solution that will restore your smile's form and function. An implant-supported bridge may be the best option for closing the gap.
What Is a Dental Implant-Supported Bridge?
A dental implant-supported bridge works just like a traditional dental bridge, but does not require the support of natural teeth. Instead, the bridge is secured by implants on either side with a pontic, or artificial tooth, suspended in-between. An implant-supported bridge consists of three parts:
- Dental Implant (Fixture): A titanium post surgically placed into your jawbone that fuses with your natural bone and replaces the root of your tooth.
- Abutment: A small, cylinder connector that screws into the implant and holds the artificial tooth or teeth in place.
- Crown (Prosthesis): A series of natural-looking tooth replacements made of porcelain or ceramic that are attached to the implant abutments.
Are You a Candidate for a Dental Implant Bridge?
Dental implant bridges are typically used when a patient is missing three or more consecutive teeth. In order to support the implants, the patient's surrounding teeth, gums and bone must be in good health. Sometimes your dentist will recommend an implant for each missing tooth; however, there are other circumstances where an implant-supported bridge might be the best solution.
- Your dental specialist wants to avoid placing an implant in a certain spot in your mouth. You might not have enough jawbone to support the implant or the spot might be located too close to a nerve or sinus cavity. Either way, the dental specialist will avoid that area by placing implants on both sides and using an implant-supported bridge.
- You clench or grind your teeth. Clenching and grinding puts a lot of pressure on individual dental implants and may cause them to come loose from the bone. An implant-supported bridge disperses the pressure across the entire bridge, putting less force on the individual implants.
- You need a more cost-effective solution. Placing a dental implant for each missing tooth requires more time in the chair during surgery and comes with a higher price tag. A implant-supported bridge requires fewer fixtures and may save money if your dental specialist considers it an adequate treatment.
Depending on the health of your mouth and the number of teeth missing, your dentist may provide other reasons for recommending an implant-supported bridge.
Benefits of a Dental Implant-Supported Bridge
The American Academy of Periodontology recognizes several advantages dental implant bridges provide over other teeth replacement solutions, such as fixed bridges or removable partial dentures. For starters, they don't require the support of adjacent natural teeth, so you don't have to worry about how the treatment will impact the health of your other teeth.
Secondly, implant-supported bridges act as a replacement for your tooth roots, which helps to preserve the surrounding bone. With partial dentures or no restorative treatment, there is a higher chance that the bone may resorb or deteriorate, which could eventually lead to an uneven smile.
Finally, dental implant bridges look and feel like natural teeth. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but they also are comfortable. Unlike removable partial dentures, implants don't move around in your mouth or prevent you from eating certain foods.
The Dental Implant-Supported Bridge Procedure
The treatment plan for an implant-supported bridge usually consists of four steps and can take five months to over a year, depending on where the implants are located and the health of your jawbone.
Step 1: Initial Consultation
Before any work is started, you will visit a prosthodontist or general dentist with advanced training in restoration and replacement of teeth for an initial consultation. There you'll receive a comprehensive exam, which includes looking into your dental and medical history, creating an impression of your gums and teeth, completing X-rays, and sometimes taking a computed tomography (CT) scan of your mouth to locate your nerves and sinuses.
If the X-ray shows your jawbone is lacking enough bone to receive an implant, you may be given the option for bone grafting or augmentation. With this procedure, it may take an additional four months or more before your jaw is strong enough and ready for implants.
Step 2: Dental Implant Placement
Your first of two surgeries will involve placing the implant fixtures into your jawbone. This procedure could be performed by an oral surgeon, periodontist, prosthodontist or dentist with additional training in implant placements.
Once the screw-like fixtures are surgically placed, osseointegration occurs, where your jawbone grows around the implant to hold it in place. This process can take three to six months before you're ready for the next step.
Step 3: Healing Caps
The second surgery requires making a small incision in your gums to expose the top of the implant fixture. Healing caps are attached to the fixture to expose the implant and guide the gums to heal correctly. The healing process can take several weeks. Some one-stage implant systems come with the extension already attached and do not require this second surgery. Your periodontist or oral surgeon can recommend the best system for you.
Step 4: Restoration
Finally, your dentist or prosthodontist will custom-make a bridge to look like your natural teeth. First, they will remove the healing cap and take a new impression to help fabricate the permanent abutment and bridge. Once it's completed, the final abutment and bridge will be placed in your mouth and secured.
Caring for Your Dental Implant-Supported Bridge
If you have recently invested in a new implant-supported bridge, you'll want to do your best to take care of it. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily, paying special attention to the area between the gum and the bridge. Your dentist may recommend a special type of floss or small brush for this cleaning, and they will want to see you back after six months for a checkup. If you have any problems with your new bridge, call your dentist immediately.