When you’re a dentist (or a dental patient), the word “bridge” can mean a lot of different things, but usually the first to come to mind is a structure containing replacement teeth to fill areas where real ones used to be. Bridges help keep your teeth in line, plus they help maintain the shape of your face. They’re pretty important for being so small!
Problems that Arise from Missing Teeth
Because missing teeth can damage your mouth irreparably, it’s important to be carefully evaluated by a qualified cosmetic dentist or prosthodontist (like me!). They can detect, diagnose and repair your mouth, even if your missing teeth have caused significant damage. These are a few consequences of ignoring missing teeth:
- Teeth drifting into incorrect positions.
- Long term bite problems.
- Tooth decay and periodontal disease.
- Jaw issues.
- Thinning bone where the missing tooth once sat.
Bone shrinkage is a really serious consequence of leaving missing teeth alone for too long. When you lose a tooth, the bone where it was attached actually starts to shrink to compensate for the new gap. It not only sounds awful, it looks pretty bad on you, too. Your facial structure can be seriously affected, making you look much older than you are.
The Process for Bridging a Gap (in Your Teeth!)
Getting a bridge done properly is not a small thing, it will take several appointments in order to get it just right. But keep in mind that you’re getting a new tooth that’s created for your unique mouth. These aren’t cheap interchangeable parts produced on a factory floor!
Here’s what you can expect:
- Consultation. Your dentist will perform an initial exam of the area with missing teeth, as well as the rest of your mouth. After discussing your options, you and your dentist agree that a bridge is the best option for you.
- Your first appointment. The teeth on either side of your missing tooth will be prepped to act as the posts to hold the bridge in place. Those two teeth are everything to the right fit, so she’ll also make an high quality impression for the techs that will create your permanent bridge. While you’re there, your dentist will give you a temporary bridge to help minimize the pain from any exposed nerves or tender gum tissue.
- After your appointment. The impression and other information about your mouth structure will be given to specially trained technicians that will create your permanent bridge.
- Fitting your bridge. Once the permanent bridge is finished, your dentist will have you come in so she can fit it in your mouth. She’ll make any necessary adjustments to improve the fit and comfort of the prosthedontic. With it properly adjusted, the bridge will be permanently fitted to your mouth. A dentist will be able to remove it, but otherwise it should function like any other permanent tooth in your mouth.
Implants Versus Bridges
If you’re not comfortable with having a bridge installed, a dental implant is another option. Or, if you have several missing teeth, using implants together with bridges can make sense. Unlike the relatively short process of having a bridge installed, implants can be very time consuming up front, especially if you need a bone graft to make your jawbone strong enough for the process.
With implants, surgical posts are placed directly into the jawbone. You’ll likely be sent home to wait for the tissue around the posts to heal, but once that’s done you can go back to your dentist for your crown. Some offices will offer same-day implants, but most people require multiple appointments, especially in situations that require grafts, multiple implants or implants and bridges together.
Implants tend to last a lot longer than bridges, but the process of implantation can be a lot more painful and time-consuming. Even though bridges can break, many patients choose them for their relative ease versus implants..
How to Take Care of a Bridge
Caring for your bridge means also caring for the teeth supporting it. If they develop an infection, begin to decay or gum disease becomes an issue, your jawbone can suffer damage, too. All of that, as you may have guessed, will lead to the failure of the bridge and the beginning of a far more expensive and painful process if you want to retain your jaw’s shape.
Instead of worrying about all of that, concentrate on taking good care of the teeth you have by:
Brushing regularly. Brush at least twice a day and between meals when possible. Spend at least two minutes with your toothbrush every time you use it, even if it’s an electric brush. In addition, using fluoride toothpaste at least twice a week will help your teeth stay strong.
Flossing. Solve lots of problems at once with waxed string! You’ll also fight back plague built-up between your teeth and gums, so double win.
Checkups. See your dentist at least once every six months. Routine dental examines will help your dentist catch changes in your mouth early, keeping your issue small up to the moment it’s resolved.
Eating healthy. Sugary, sticky and hard candies are among the top offenders for bridge damage. Instead, stick to healthy, colorful vegetables and fruits, plus lean meats. When in doubt about how much damage a food might cause your bridge, call your dentist for an official opinion.
Bridging the gap is more than just sticking a new tooth in among the old ones. You also have to take care of the bridge over the long term if you want it to last. Good oral hygiene and a well-practiced prosthodontist will set you up on the road to success.