No matter how careful you are with your teeth, sometimes unforeseen things like accidents or even gum disease can lead to missing teeth. When this happens, there are several different methods that can be used to replace the tooth, the easiest and most relatively inexpensive being the use of a dental bridge.
Indeed, a dental bridge is the perfect solution for someone who has suffered the loss of a molar, and has two healthy teeth adjacent to the spot where the missing tooth was originally. In this scenario, your dentist will more than likely suggest the use of a dental bridge, using the aforementioned healthy teeth to hold the new replacement tooth (called a "pontic") in place. Depending on the given circumstances surrounding the place where the bridge will be installed, and the preference of the patient his or herself, dental bridges can either be temporary or permanent.
The permanent option requires that the adjacent teeth be altered considerably, so that they can be crowned (see last month's "The Lowdown on Dental Crowns") so that the bridge has something to attach to on either side of the installation, therefore holding the artificial tooth securly in place. Common materials for permanent bridges are gold, porcelain and even porcelain fused together with metals. There are also resin-bonded bridges, but these are only used in cases where patients have very healthy teeth, and where missing tooth is not located near the back of the mouth, where most of the chewing takes place. Indeed, this type of bridge is usually only used when front teeth are missing.
If, however, a temporary, or "Maryland" bridge is all that is required, there is a special method in which your dentist will affix the artificial tooth using "wings" that wrap around the rear and far sides of the adjacent teeth, essentially tying the fake tooth to the adjacent real ones on either side. Temporary bridges are, as the term denotes, far more temporary than permanent ones. They are more prone to breaking and having the "wings" come unglued from the sides of the adjacent real teeth. Plus, there is the unsightly metal "wings" themselves, and, although there are more natural looking plastic wings, they are considerably more expensive, and often do not last as long as the metal ones.
Just like having a crown installed, having a dental bridge put in usually requires two visits to your dentist's office. At the first appointment, your dentist will shape your adjacent teeth and take a mold of them, so that his or her laboratory can craft both the two crowns and one artificial tooth necessary for the assembly of the bridge. In the meantime, a temporary bridge will usually be installed to carry you through the usually week-long process of creating your dental bridge assembly.
The process of having a bridge installed is usually not a very painful one. In fact, the most common complaint people usual have is an increased sensitivity to the teeth that are adjacent to the artificial one, but this usually diminishes over time. However, if you experience any serious pain or discomfort after undergoing this common dental procedure, we would advise that you see your dentist immediately to make sure that all has, indeed, gone according to plan with your new dental bridge.