If you are missing one or more teeth, a dental bridge is one way to fill the gap and restore your smile. A tooth bridge is a permanent, fixed dental prosthesis which looks and feels like a natural tooth. Dental bridges can last 10-15 years or longer and are available on the NHS, making them a popular tooth replacement option.
There are several types of dental bridge, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. In this guide we'll take you through the different options – and alternative treatments like dentures and implants – so you can make a more informed decision about which is right for you.
You'll find answers to common questions about tooth bridges including:
- What is a dental bridge?
- What's the difference between a traditional fixed bridge and a bonded bridge?
- Can I get a dental bridge for front teeth?
- What's the difference between a tooth bridge, implant and denture?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of these different options?
- How much does a tooth bridge cost in the UK?
- How do I get a dental bridge on the NHS?
- What potential dental bridge problems might I experience?
We have made this guide to teeth bridges as comprehensive as possible so you can find all the information you need in one place. We hope this helps you decide whether a dental bridge is the best dental restoration for you.
Table of contents
- 1 What is a dental bridge?
- 2 Types of dental bridges
- 3 Dental bridge vs. implant vs. denture
- 4 How much does a dental bridge cost in the UK?
- 5 Possible dental bridge problems
- 6 Do I need to replace a missing tooth?
- 7 Conclusion
- 8 Dental bridge FAQs
What is a dental bridge?
We can define a dental bridge as a type of dental prosthesis which literally bridges the gap between two teeth. If you have lost one or two teeth to decay or because of an accident, a bridge can make your smile complete again. Some people get dental bridges to treat hypodontia, or congenitally missing teeth.
Where more than two teeth in a row are missing, an implant-supported bridge may be an option – more on those later.
Tooth bridges come in a variety of materials and finishes. Metal alloys are usually the cheapest option, but they have the obvious disadvantage of looking nothing like natural teeth.
Porcelain and ceramic bridges, when made well, look exactly like natural teeth. However, they come at a much higher cost because of the materials and lab work involved.
A solution which balances cost with appearance is a bridge made from ceramic or porcelain fused to a metal base (as pictured). This type of bridge can lose its aesthetic appearance over time, though, and may not be as strong as pure ceramic. The best material for your tooth bridge will depend on your budget and the position of your teeth.
Types of dental bridges
Traditional tooth bridges use the adjacent teeth as anchors for the prosthesis. There are two ways to fit a bridge to the existing teeth: fixed or bonded.
A fixed bridge is the most common type of dental bridge as it provides a strong, durable way to replace one or two adjacent teeth.
The prosthesis used for a fixed bridge consists of a crown on either side and one or two pontics (artificial teeth) in the middle. The crowns are hollow and fit over the neighbouring teeth to secure the bridge in place.
Traditional dental bridge procedure
In order for the crowns to fit properly, the anchor teeth must be filed down from their original size as part of the dental bridge procedure. These two teeth have to be strong enough to support the bridge and take the extra biting pressure. Dentists may perform root canal treatment on the anchor teeth before removing the necessary amount of enamel.
After preparing the anchor teeth, the next step in the dental bridge procedure is to take a dental impression. This is sent to a laboratory where your bridge is precisely made to measure. In the meantime, your dentist may provide a temporary dental bridge to protect the exposed teeth and gums.
The video below shows just how many steps are involved with dental bridge construction in the lab:
Once your permanent bridge is ready, your dentist will position it in your mouth and ask you to test how it feels. Provided you're happy with the fit, your dentist will fix it in place using a strong dental cement. Further visits are sometimes required to improve the fit, but not always.
The main drawback to a fixed bridge is having to ‘sacrifice' two healthy teeth. If you later decide to replace your tooth bridge with an implant, the adjacent teeth will require crowns since removal of enamel is permanent.
You'll also need to take special care when cleaning and flossing around your bridge. Using a water flosser can make the process quicker, easier, and more effective.
Aside from that, a fixed bridge is a strong and durable solution. If you opt for a ceramic or porcelain bridge, nobody should be able to spot that the teeth aren't natural.
Front teeth bridge
A dental bridge for front teeth may require two crowns on either side, since the biting pressure on the front incisors is so great.
If you are missing one or more front teeth, or have been told you need to have them extracted, your dentist will be able to advise you on the best type of front tooth bridge for you.
Similar to a traditional dental bridge, a cantilever bridge is attached via a crown on just one of the adjacent teeth. This type of bridge might be used when there is only one natural tooth next to a missing tooth.
One benefit of cantilever bridges is they only require one healthy tooth to be drilled into an abutment. On the other hand, they aren't as strong as a bridge with two supporting crowns. They can place extra pressure on the supporting tooth, leading to more problems later on. As such, cantilever bridges are usually not used in locations that take a lot of pressure from biting and chewing.
Bonded bridge (Maryland bridge)
When there is only one tooth to replace, your dentist may fit a bonded bridge (also called a Maryland bridge).
Rather than being fitted over the adjacent teeth with crowns, this type of bridge has metal or porcelain ‘wings' on each side which are bonded to the inner edge of the adjacent teeth.
A bonded bridge of course has the advantage of preserving the healthy adjacent teeth. The main downside is that it won't be as strong as a fixed bridge. Over time the adhesive holding it in place can weaken, causing the bridge to break off or become loose.
With any type of bridge for teeth, it is only the crown of the tooth that is being replaced. The root remains absent, and this can cause the jawbone to recede over time.
Long-term, this may cause sagging around the face. If you choose to have implants at a later date, you may first need a bone graft. This is really the main dental bridge problem that patients need to be aware of.
Dental bridge vs. implant vs. denture
Tooth bridges, implants and dentures are all dental solutions for the replacement of missing teeth. Each offers advantages and disadvantages over the others, which we have summarised below. However, the best way to determine which is right for you is to have a consultation with your dentist.
Dental implants are placed directly into your jawbone, where your tooth root would have been. They are usually made from titanium, a very strong material which is biocompatible with our bodies (meaning there should be no allergic reaction or rejection of the implant).
An abutment is fitted to the implant, and this is what holds the crown (the replacement tooth) in place.
The main benefits of implants over bridges are:
- They don't affect the adjacent teeth
- They are a more durable solution and can last a lifetime
- It's easier to maintain good oral hygiene with an implant (less chance of decay and gum disease)
- They help maintain the structure of the jawbone and the shape of the face
On the downside, implants require some surgery and are much more expensive than a bridge fitted over teeth. If you take into account the lifetime cost and inconvenience of replacing your tooth bridge, though, an implant may work out as a good investment in the long run.
Treatment time is another consideration for some patients. The process for placing a traditional implant takes several months, as the implant needs time to settle and fuse with the bone before the abutment and crown are attached. For some patients this is just too long to wait, so a bridge is the better solution.
If you are missing a tooth because of trauma, you may need additional time to heal before the implant process commences. You may also be able to get a mini implant which requires less bone mass for placement.
For patients who are missing several teeth in a row or whose remaining teeth aren't healthy enough to be used as anchors, bridged implants may be an option. Dentists can install implants in place of anchor teeth and then fit a bridge (made from two crowns and one or two pontics) over them.
This option is more cost-effective than replacing each tooth with an individual implant, since it uses fewer implants.
Dentures are what most people think of as ‘false teeth‘. They consist of one or more prosthetic teeth fixed to a frame made from plastic and metal which clips around existing teeth. The versatility of dentures means they can be made to fit around any number of remaining healthy teeth. People who have lost all their teeth can get a full set of dentures.
Although partial dentures are the most affordable option when it comes to replacing a missing tooth, they are also the least convenient to live with. Wearers must be careful about what they eat as certain foods will dislodge or damage dentures.
Although you can clean your teeth as normal while wearing a partial denture, you'll still have to remove it sometimes for special cleaning. Full dentures, on the other hand, often must be removed and left in a cleaning solution overnight.
Because of the way our mouths change over time (especially when teeth are missing), dentures may only last for a few years before coming loose. If they are not replaced, they can become uncomfortable and cause mouth sores. There is also a chance of them slipping out mid-conversation.
Comparing the options
Below is a comparison table for the tooth replacement options described above:
|Dental bridge||Dental implant + crown/bridge||Partial denture|
|Permanency||Fixed to adjacent teeth; non-removable||Implanted in the jaw bone, fixed in place||Removable|
|Longevity||5-15 years, possibly longer||20+ years||5-10 years, possibly longer|
|Comfort||Like natural teeth if fitted well||Like natural teeth||May become loose over time and cause discomfort|
|Appearance||Like natural teeth (unless metal)||Like natural teeth||May look artificial; metal clips may be visible|
|Function||Like natural teeth||Like natural teeth||Certain foods must be avoided; remove to clean|
|Cost on NHS||£269.30||N/A||£269.30|
|Other pros/cons||Requires removal of enamel on neighbouring teeth||Involves surgery; small risk of infection||Can slip out of place; easy to lose or damage while removed|
The animation below shows the process for fitting a 3-unit bridge compared to a single-tooth implant:
Keep in mind that any kind of artificial tooth or tooth covering will be unaffected by teeth whitening. It's important to remember this if you have a bridge that is visible when you smile.
Again, remember that the best way to determine which solution is right for you is to have a consultation with your dentist. You can also chat with a dentist online to ask any questions you have and discuss your treatment options. Visit JustAnswer now to connect with one of their US-based dental professionals who can help you figure out what's best for you, without the inconvenience of a dental appointment.
How much does a dental bridge cost in the UK?
Dental bridge costs will, of course, depend on the material used and the type of bridge chosen, as well as your dentist's fees for consultations, fitting, etc. Your local surgery can probably give you an idea of prices prior to a consultation, either by phone or on their website.
Your dentist will certainly want to check your mouth and the state of your remaining teeth before confirming your treatment plan and providing a final cost estimate.
Can you get a dental bridge on the NHS?
Yes, dental bridges are one of the tooth replacement treatments offered on the NHS. If you are missing one or more teeth, your dentist will discuss whether a partial denture or a tooth bridge would be the most suitable solution.
One downside of NHS dental bridges is you won't get a choice of materials. Your dentist will select the most clinically suitable material. A dental bridge for front teeth on the NHS will probably be made from porcelain fused to metal (PFM), giving it a tooth-coloured appearance. For back teeth, either PFM or all-metal bridges may be offered.
If your NHS dentist only offers you a metal dental bridge and you would prefer a tooth-coloured one, you'll need to pay for private treatment.
What does a dental bridge cost on the NHS
The cost of a dental bridge with an NHS dentist is £269.30 in England – the band 3 treatment charge. This price remains fixed regardless of how many teeth you have treated. Only certain types of tooth bridge are included with NHS treatment, though.
If you are unable to find an NHS dentist accepting patients, or you are ineligible for NHS treatment for some reason, you can visit a private dentist to get a bridge for your teeth.
Cost of bridges in the UK with a private dentist
Although private treatment can be more costly, you'll have more choice over the materials used and won't have to deal with NHS waiting times.
The table below gives an idea of what you can expect to pay for different types of bridge with a private UK dentist:
|Type of bridge||Average cost (private treatment)|
|Traditional fixed crown and bridge||£250 - £800 per unit|
|Bonded bridge||£350 - £1,000|
|Implant-supported bridge (2 implants, 3-unit bridge)||from £2,900|
As you can see, the cost of a dental implant bridge is by far the highest. But since implants are a long-lasting solution, they may work out more cost-effective over the life of the restoration.
If you need help funding your dental work, you might consider a dental loan or credit card.
Saving money on dental bridge costs with insurance
One way to save money on dental bridges, especially if you are getting implants, is to go abroad for your treatment. Teeth bridge costs and other dental care can be 50-70% less in countries like Hungary and Poland, yet the standard of care is often greater than you're used to at home.
Teeth bridges are commonly covered by dental insurance policies in the UK, too. If you already have insurance, check whether your provider will make a contribution towards your dental bridge costs.
Our dental insurance guide explains more about the options and what to consider when taking out insurance. Be aware that many policies have a waiting period that applies before you can claim for restorative treatments like teeth bridges. This might be 3, 6 or 12 months, for instance, so only go ahead if you're happy to wait that long before getting treatment.
Possible dental bridge problems
Although teeth bridges are a great way to replace missing teeth, of course complications can occur – just like with any kind of dental treatment. If you're worried about dental bridge risks, here are some of the most common dental bridge problems you might encounter.
Infection under dental bridge
There are three main causes of infection under and around a tooth bridge:
- Poor oral hygiene
- A poorly fitting bridge irritating the gums
- Decay in the supporting teeth
When you first get your tooth bridge fitted, your dentist will advise you how to keep it clean. Following this advice will help you avoid complications with infection in the surrounding teeth. If you think your dental bridge is infected, visit your dentist before it develops into something more serious, like an oral abscess.
Sensitivity under dental bridge
Your mouth and gums need to get used to the shape of your new teeth, so it's normal to feel some sensitivity around your teeth and gums for a few days after having a dental bridge placed. This is especially true if you had root canal treatment as well.
If sensitivity continues for more than a couple of weeks, it may be due to a problem with the placement of the tooth bridge. It's best to visit your dentist so they can assess the situation. Also see your dentist if you start experiencing sensitivity or pain under an old dental bridge.
Food caught under dental bridge
You will need to take extra care when cleaning around your dental bridge, since food can get stuck in the small spaces between the pontic and gum. Not only is this uncomfortable; it will soon start to smell bad and breed bacteria that cause decay.
Using a water flosser will help you dislodge any food caught under your dental bridge. The Waterpik Ultra, for example, is a popular model which is gentle yet effective at cleaning around teeth bridges and crowns.
Dental bridge feels loose
If your dental bridge feels loose straight after it's been fitted, your dentist will need to re-cement it. If you feel your tooth bridge moving around, book an appointment straight away so it can be fixed before any damage occurs.
Over time, the dental cement that holds a tooth bridge in place will start to fail and this may cause an old bridge to feel loose. It may be possible to re-cement it if the supporting teeth are still in good condition; otherwise it will have to be replaced.
You can buy glue to fix a dental bridge yourself, but this is rarely as effective as getting it treated professionally. Only use this as a temporary solution while you're waiting to see your dentist.
Dental bridge feels tight
It will take you some time to get used to the feel of your new tooth bridge. It may feel tight – even painful – at first because there is extra pressure on the supporting teeth. If this feeling doesn't settle down after a week or so, feel free to mention it to your dentist.
Metal appearing at base of teeth
One of the downsides of a porcelain fused to metal (PFM) bridge is that over time, the porcelain can wear away to reveal a line of metal at the gum line. This is not necessarily a sign that there is something wrong with the bridge, but it can be unsightly, especially with front teeth.
Your dentist can advise you of the best course of action, depending on the overall condition of your bridge. If you want to avoid this problem, opt for an all-ceramic tooth bridge instead of one that contains metal.
Do I need to replace a missing tooth?
With all these options to choose from, it may seem easier to do nothing at all and just live with a gap in your mouth – especially if it's towards the back where nobody really sees it.
However, there are several reasons why it's not a good idea to ignore the problem:
- It's harder to eat with a tooth missing
- The surrounding teeth will be subject to extra pressure and wear
- There is a greater risk of gum disease
- It may affect your speech
- The supporting jawbone will deteriorate over time and facial muscles may sag (this can be avoided with an implant, but not a bridge)
So if you or a loved one are missing one or more teeth, the question is not “Should I replace it?” but “How should I replace it?”
Since both dentures and bridges for teeth are covered by the NHS for UK patients, getting a prosthetic tooth needn't break the bank. For those who want a natural-looking, permanent way to fill a gap between teeth, a dental bridge may be the best option. Once fitted, you can forget that it isn't one of your natural teeth (except for taking extra care to clean it).
Implants are an even longer-lasting solution and they help retain the patient's jaw bone and facial shape. However, implants are only available privately so cost a lot more. Fortunately, there are ways you can save money on dental implants if this is the option you wish to choose.
Do you still have questions about your treatment options? Check out our FAQs below or connect with a qualified dentist at JustAnswer to get professional advice. Their dentists are US-based but are available 24/7 to answer your questions quickly.
Dental bridge FAQs
Can you remove a dental bridge?
No, a dental bridge is designed to be fixed in place permanently. Dentures, on the other hand, can be removed.
If your dental bridge has a poor fit, your dentist may be able to remove it and re-cement it for a better fit.
Is getting a dental bridge painful?
The dental bridge procedure itself will be done under local anaesthetic. You may experience a little discomfort from the injection and during the procedure, but it shouldn't be painful at all.
You may experience temporary dental bridge pain or sensitivity for a few days after the procedure, though.
How long does it take for a dental bridge to settle?
Your new bridge may feel strange for a few days or weeks as your mouth gets used to it. During this time you might experience sensitive teeth and gums.
If you're experiencing severe pain or your bridge is affecting your natural bite, mention it to your dentist.
How long does a dental bridge last?
All being well, a tooth bridge can last 10-15 years or more. After that, the materials begin to deteriorate and the supporting teeth are at greater risk of decay. Your dentist will check your bridge at your dental checkups and will let you know when it needs to be replaced.
The cost of replacing a dental bridge can add up over the years, so you might consider making the investment in dental implants instead. Implants last much longer – possibly for a lifetime – so can be more cost effective in the long run.
What should I do if I swallowed my dental bridge?
If a tooth bridge becomes dislodged while you're eating or sleeping, you may accidentally swallow it. Don't worry – you're certainly not the first to do this.
Many people who swallow a tooth bridge find that it passes naturally without any problems. However, it's best to visit your doctor, especially if nothing has emerged after 2-3 days, because it can get caught in your digestive system and lead to more serious problems.