Dental Bridges

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is a dental bridge?

A dental bridge is a fixed device that replaces one or more missing teeth. Missing teeth can affect your ability to chew and talk and change the alignment of the teeth and shape of your face. Dental bridges prevent these problems by filling the gap in your smile with an artificial tooth attached to a permanent dental implant or the natural teeth next to it.

A dental bridge can be made of metal, porcelain or ceramic material, or a metal base with a porcelain or ceramic coating. A dental bridge is a permanent or fixed device. You cannot take it out of your mouth without help from your dentist. 

Placing a dental bridge is generally considered safe, but there are risks and potential complications A dental bridge is only one method used to replace missing teeth. Discuss all your treatment options with your dentist to understand which options are right for you.

Types of dental bridges

All types of dental bridges fill a space left by one or more missing teeth with an artificial tooth. The types of dental bridges that your dentist may use include:

  • Traditional bridges consist of an artificial tooth attached to two or more crowns. A dental crown is a fixed device that covers a tooth with a tooth-shaped cap. The crowns are placed over the teeth on both sides of the gap to support the artificial tooth.

  • Cantilever bridges consist of an artificial tooth attached to one or more crowns on one side of the missing tooth. A dental crown is a fixed device that covers a tooth with a tooth-shaped cap. Cantilever bridges replace a missing tooth that has teeth on only one side of it.

  • Maryland bridges consist of an artificial tooth that is bonded or cemented to natural teeth on either side of it with small metal or ceramic attachments. These attachments are shaped like wings. Maryland bridges are sometimes called Maryland bonded bridges, resin bonded bridges, or Encore bridges. Maryland bridges are typically used for front teeth because they create a more natural appearance. They are not as strong as other bridges and are not suited to replace teeth that do a lot of hard biting or chewing.

Why is a dental bridge procedure performed? 

Your dentist may recommend a dental bridge to fill in the space made by one or more missing teeth. A tooth may become missing due to a mouth injury, damage to a tooth, or serious tooth decay

If you leave a space where a tooth used to be, the other teeth around it may shift. This could lead to biting and chewing problems. Missing teeth can also affect your speech and change the shape of your face. A dental bridge helps prevent these problems after you lose a tooth.

Who performs a dental bridge procedure?

A dentist or prosthodontist performs dental bridge procedures. A prosthodontist is a dentist with extra education and training in restoring damaged or missing teeth with crowns, bridges, and other devices. 

How is a dental bridge procedure performed?

You dental bridge procedure will be performed in a dental office or clinic. Dental bridge procedures vary depending on the location or missing teeth and type of dental bridge. A traditional or cantilever bridge procedure typically includes these steps:

  1. You will sit in a reclining position in the dentist chair and wear a clear shield over your eyes. The shield protects your eyes from spraying liquids and dental instruments.

  2. Your dentist will inject a local anesthetic into the gums near your tooth. The anesthetic numbs the pain during the procedure. Your dentist may apply a painless topical anesthetic to numb the gums partially before the injection.

  3. Your dentist will reshape the teeth next to your missing tooth so that the crowns can fit snugly over them. This may involve filling any hollowed-out areas of your teeth with a filling material and filing down certain parts of your teeth.

  4. Your dentist will make a rubber mold (impression) of the space left by your missing tooth and the teeth around it. Your dentist sends the impression to a lab to make a customized bridge that fits correctly.

  5. Your dentist will place a temporary bridge using temporary cement. You will wear the temporary bridge until your permanent bridge is ready.

  6. You will return to the dentist’s office within a few weeks. Your dentist will remove the temporary bridge and place your permanent bridge with stronger and permanent cement.

  7. Your dentist will examine and test the bridge for proper fit before cementing with permanent cement. This may involve grinding parts of the bridge to ensure a proper bite. You may need to return to the dentist for painless adjustments of the bridge to ensure a comfortable bite.

Will I feel pain?

Your comfort and relaxation are important to you and your care team. You may feel brief sharp pinches when your dentist injects your gums with local anesthetic. Ask your dentist if your gums can be partially numbed with a painless topical anesthetic before the injections. 

You may also feel pressure as your dentist prepares your teeth to receive a bridge. Take a few long, deep breaths to help yourself relax. Tell your dentist if any discomfort does not pass quickly.

What are the risks and potential complications of a dental bridge?  

Complications of a dental bridge are uncommon, but any dental procedure involves risks and the potential complications.  Complications may become serious in some cases. Complications can develop during the procedure or your recovery. 

Risks and potential complications of a dental bridge include:

  • Allergic reaction to the materials used in the false tooth or crown

  • Anesthetic complications, such as allergic reaction and nerve or blood vessel injury

  • Chipping, loosening, and loss of the bridge

  • Infection in the teeth that are crowned and support the bridge

  • Mouth or tooth injury

  • Sensitivity to heat and cold in the crowned teeth

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by:

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations before your bridge procedure and during recovery

  • Informing your dentist if you are nursing or if there is any possibility of pregnancy

  • Notifying your dentist immediately of any concerns after the procedure such as pain, fever, and difficulty chewing

  • Taking your medications exactly as directed

  • Telling all members of your care team if you have any allergies, especially any metal allergies if your dentist is using metal bridge material

  • Wearing your temporary bridge at all times until the permanent bridge is placed

How do I prepare for my dental bridge procedure? 

You are an important member of your dental care team. The steps you take before your dental bridge procedure can improve your comfort and outcome. 

You can prepare for a dental bridge procedure by:

  • Answering all questions about your medical history and medications. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamins. It is a good idea to carry a current list of your medical conditions, medications, and allergies at all times.

  • Taking or stopping medications exactly as directed

  • Telling your dentist if there is any possibility of pregnancy

Questions to ask your dentist

Having a dental bridge procedure can be stressful. It is common for patients to forget some of their questions during a dentist’s office visit. You may also think of other questions after your appointment. Contact your dentist with concerns and questions before your dental bridge procedure and between appointments. 

It is also a good idea to bring a list of questions to your appointments. Questions can include:

  • How long will the procedure take? When will I go home?

  • What are my options for the types of bridges and bridge materials?

  • What restrictions will I have after the procedure? When can I expect to return to eating, work, and other activities?

  • How do I take my medications?

  • How will you treat my pain?

  • How long should my bridge last?

  • When should I follow up with you?

  • How should I contact you? Ask for numbers to call during and after regular hours.

What can I expect after my dental bridge procedure?

Knowing what to expect can help you get back to your everyday life as soon as possible.

How will I feel after the dental bridge procedure?

Your mouth, gums and tongue may feel numb for a few hours after your dental bridge procedure. This is because the local anesthetic will take time to wear off. 

You may also feel some tenderness and your affected teeth may be more sensitive than usual to cold and heat for a few days or weeks after your procedure. Tell your dentist if these symptoms worsen or continue longer than a couple weeks because they can be a sign of a complication.

When can I go home?

You will probably go home and resume most of your normal activities right after a dental bridge procedure. Your dentist may instruct you to wait to eat and drink until after your anesthetic has worn off and you can feel your mouth and tongue again. This will help prevent you from accidentally biting your mouth or tongue. 

When should I call my dentist?

It’s important to keep your follow-up appointments after a dental bridge procedure. Call your dentist if you have any concerns between appointments. Call your dentist right away or seek immediate medical care if you have:

  • Bleeding 
  • Fever
  • Pain in your gums or teeth
  • Problems biting or chewing

Seek immediate medical care if you have itching, hives, mouth or tongue swelling, or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, or wheezing. This may be due to a rare reaction to anesthetic.

How might a dental bridge affect my everyday life?

A dental bridge can preserve your biting and chewing ability because it fills in space left by a missing tooth. It will also preserve the natural shape of your may also help you feel better about your teeth’s appearance. 

A dental bridge requires daily dental care just like a normal tooth. You should continue to brush your teeth twice a day and floss every day. Your dentist will recommend a certain type of floss to clean underneath bridges, such as Oral-B Super Floss or standard floss with a floss threader.

Visit your dentist for regular cleanings and checkups at least once a year or as recommended to ensure that your bridge still fits and functions well. Your dentist will also check that the teeth underneath the crowns are still free of decay. If supporting teeth in a bridge become decayed, you may need a root canal and a replacement crown and bridge.

Bridges experience wear and tear and may eventually need replacement, generally after five to seven years. Some bridges can last much longer, even a lifetime. Ask your dentist how long your dental bridge should last and what you can do to make it last.

Was this helpful?
  1. Bridges. Colgate Oral Health and Dental Resource Center.
  2. Bridges. Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association.
  3. Dental Bridges. The Cleveland Clinic.
  4. Dental Implants vs. Fixed Dental Bridges. American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
  5. What are Dental Crowns and Tooth Bridges? Colgate Oral Health and Dental Resource Center.
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 24
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