According to the statistics given by the US Surgeon general, the average number of teeth possessed by an American between the young ages of 24 to 34 years is 26.97. What does this mean? That out of the 32 adult teeth, adult people have lost more than five teeth, on the average! So, tooth loss is quite common in the US and other parts of the world.
Dental professionals always try to educate their patients about the importance of preventive measures in the form of good oral hygiene, tooth friendly diet, and regular visits to the dentist. Despite this, individuals tend to lose teeth because they ignore this advice. In additions, people may also lose teeth due to accidents.
Ignoring Lost Teeth
A tooth once lost cannot regrow. But it cannot be ignored either. A vacant socket has many disadvantages.
- Functional Difficulty: Loss of even a single tooth can cause significant problems in chewing, resulting in a reluctance to eat, indigestion, and a resultant deterioration in general health. Absence of one or more teeth in the front can cause you to mispronounce certain sounds. This can lead to ambiguity and embarrassment.
- Esthetic Handicap: Loss of visible front teeth is a very serious social handicap. Your smile will be ruined, and it will affect your social acceptability. It is a sad fact that most Americans believe your smile directly affects your chances of getting hired and being successful at workplace.
- Bone Loss: If a tooth socket remains vacant, the surrounding jaw bone automatically starts dying, and may even affect neighboring teeth.
- Tooth Displacement: Neighboring teeth invariably move inwards, to a smaller or a larger extent. This could, in certain case, even effect the bite, i.e., closing of the upper teeth over the lower teeth.
Treating Tooth Loss
If you have lost one or two teeth for any reason, the best solution is of course, an implant. However, implants are expensive, and not everybody will go for it. An age-old solution is the dental bridge, which is very common, not as expensive, and is offered as a tooth replacement option by almost all dentists throughout the world.
What is a Dental Bridge?
Like the road bridge, the dental bridge is a structure which takes support from side structures. The conventional bridge is a set of artificial teeth (pontics) on a rigid structure which is supported by adjacent healthy teeth or implant supported prostheses. These supporting teeth are called abutment teeth or anchor teeth. Normally, crowns are placed on the anchor teeth to which the structure carrying the pontics is cemented. The bridge is a permanent structure as distinct from the removable dentures.
Types of Dental Bridges
Bridges are categorized according to the type of attachment to the abutment. There are three broad categories.
- Conventional Bridges: The bridge is supported on two crowns applied to the support teeth. the teeth need to be trimmed of enamel to allow for thickness of the crown. This has the disadvantage of an extra process, and of exposing the trimmed teeth to possibility of sensitivity.
- Cantilever bridge: A cantilever support means that the bridge is taking support on one side only because an abutment tooth is not available on the other side. Typically, a cantilever bridge would be used to replace the last one or two molars. In view of the availability of implants, the cantilever option is not in favor anymore.
- Maryland bridge: The Maryland bridge is resin-bonded directly to the abutment teeth and not through crowns placed on abutment teeth.
How is a Dental Bridge Made?
Provision of a dental bridge is multistep procedure:
- Preparation of Abutment Teeth: These teeth are trimmed of their enamel by a thickness equal to the thickness of the crowns which will be placed over them. That is why teeth selected for the abutment must be healthy should have sufficient enamel remaining after tooth preparation. Removal of enamel can expose them to greater chances of tooth sensitivity. To prevent this, dentists look at the x-ray images of the tooth to ascertain the thickness of enamel and its proximity to the sensitive dentine and pulp layers of the tooth.
- Impressions: Once the abutment teeth are ready the dentist will take accurate impressions of your teeth. He or she will also note the color of the remaining teeth, and consult with you on the material to be used for the crowns. This is important because the cost depends on the material of the crowns. This information, and the impressions are sent to the dental lab for preparation of the bridge including the crowns. A temporary bridge may be given to you at this stage.
- Fixing the Bridge: Once the permanent bridge is received from the lab, in the next appointment, the dentist will check it for proper fitting and correct bite. Minor adjustments may be made in the office itself. The bridge is then cemented in place.
Tooth Bridge Materials
The artificial teeth, also known as the pontics, are used for replacing the missing teeth. They are attached on the either sides to the abutment teeth. These pontics and abutments can be made from a variety of materials and add to the cost accordingly. Pontics can be made from metal alloys, porcelain or a combination of porcelains and metal alloys (metal-porcelain prostheses). Porcelain teeth excel in esthetics due to good color matching and natural looks.
How Long Will My Bridge Last?
A bridge is a permanent structure. Normally, it will last a lifetime. For various reasons they may come loose, and can be refitted by your dentist. However, just like your natural teeth, lifetime of dental bridges can be considerably enhanced if you take good care of your oral hygiene. Dentists recommend using an inter-dental brush for removing food debris from beneath and around the bridge. This will not only improve your oral health, but also eliminate the chances of having a bad breath.
Caring for your Bridge
To preserve your bridge in good shape, avoid chewing hard food, cracking nuts, etc. Always observe good hygiene. This includes regular and thorough brushing twice a day and regular flossing. Chewing sticky and hard foods directly from your teeth bridges is not advisable, as it can lead to dislodgement. Most importantly, you should pay regular visits to your dentist, so that he or she can observe any abnormality with the bridge and the rest of the teeth. If you feel that the bridge is loosening, visit the dentist immediately for re-fixing.