What is a dental bridge?

An example of a dental bridge

A dental bridge is a specific type of fixed prosthesis with the goal of replacing a missing tooth or teeth. What specifically makes a bridge a bridge is that it attaches to the surrounding teeth in order to be fixed in place and to anchor the entire restoration. Various types of bridges exist, dependent on the way in which they attach to the nearby teeth, and while bridges can be supported by dental implants, they are traditionally anchored by prepping or 'reducing' the nearby teeth and attaching to those teeth.

Taking this picture as an example, the two outer teeth on the bridge will 'cap' over existing teeth that have been prepped as anchors, with the middle tooth, also called the pontic, filling in an empty space. Traditional materials that are used to fabricate dental bridges are gold, PFM (porcelain fused to metal), or ceramic, with the material chosen determining the amount of tooth structure that must be removed.

What is a Maryland bridge?

A Maryland bridge is a specific type of bridge that is able to avoid entirely or minimize the damage to adjacent teeth by utilizing wings which attach to the nearby teeth. As the Maryland bridge is not nearly as strong as a conventional bridge, they are used almost exclusively in the front of the mouth, and the teeth that are acting as anchors cannot have major fillings or existing crowns and must be structurally sound.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a dental bridge?

The major drawback to a traditional bridge, as explained above, is that the nearby teeth can be otherwise healthy, but must be reduced in order to retain the original size and shape of the teeth and maintain the correct alignment with the teeth on the opposing jaw. Additionally, bone loss will typically occur over time, which is one major cause of failure of the bridge. There is also some difficulty in cleaning and maintaining the bridge, particularly in regard to flossing, due to the bridge being a single connected unit.

The significant upside is that dental bridges are expected to last a very long time, they can typically be completed in two appointments, the aesthetics are much improved over a missing tooth, and they are excellent in terms of comfort. Additionally, there is significant cost savings compared to dental implants, which is often one of the main motivators for choosing a dental bridge.