Dental Bridges: What Do They Do?

Medically Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD on January 24, 2024
6 min read

Dental bridges literally bridge the gap created by one or more missing teeth.

A bridge is made up of two or more crowns for the teeth on either side of the gap (these two or more anchoring teeth are called abutment teeth) and a false tooth/teeth in between. These false teeth are called pontics and can be made from gold, alloys, porcelain, or a combination of these materials. Dental bridges are supported by your natural teeth or dental implants.


Dental bridge vs. implant

A dental implant starts with a post placed in your jaw during oral surgery. It goes in the spot left by the missing tooth's root. Once your jaw has healed from the surgery, a crown goes on top of the post. Dental bridges fill in for missing teeth without replacing the root. Crowns go over your natural teeth on each side of the missing tooth, and an artificial tooth bridges the gap between them.

What does a dental bridge look like?

A bridge is designed to look like your natural teeth.

Is a dental bridge permanent?

If your dentist puts in a fixed or permanent bridge, it will be cemented to nearby teeth. Only a dentist will be able to remove it.

How long does a dental bridge last?

Even though they're called "permanent," bridges generally last 5-15 years. Eventually, they wear out and have to be replaced.

Bridges can:

  • Restore your smile
  • Restore your ability to properly chew and speak
  • Maintain the shape of your face
  • Distribute the forces in your bite properly by replacing missing teeth
  • Prevent remaining teeth from drifting out of position

Traditional dental bridges

This type of bridge creates a crown for the tooth or implant on either side of the missing tooth, with a pontic in between. Traditional bridges are the most common type of bridge and are made of either porcelain fused to metal or ceramics.

Cantilever dental bridges

These are used when you have adjacent teeth on only one side of the missing tooth or teeth. This is not very common and isn't recommended in the back of your mouth . It can put too much force on your other teeth and damage them.

Maryland bonded dental bridges

These are also called resin-bonded bridges or Maryland bridges. They're made of porcelain, porcelain fused to metal, or plastic teeth and gums supported by a metal or porcelain framework. Metal or porcelain wings, often on just one side of the bridge, are bonded to your existing teeth.

Removable dental bridges

A removable bridge clips onto the teeth on either side, usually with metal clasps. You can put it in and take it out yourself. This type is usually made of metal and acrylic.

Implant-supported dental bridges

These are similar to traditional bridges. But instead of using your natural teeth on either side of the gap for support, they are held up by dental implants.

You and your dentist will go over several factors to decide which type is best for you. They include:

  • What you prefer
  • Your age
  • How many teeth are missing
  • Whether you have natural teeth on each side and what condition they're in 
  • Your overall dental health

How many visits you'll need and the exact steps depend on the type of bridge you receive. 

Traditional or cantilever bridge procedure

You'll follow similar steps for either of these types. During your first visit:

  • You'll get medicine to make you comfortable.
  • Your dentist will shape the teeth next to the gap, making them ready to support the bridge. This will involve grinding.
  • Once the teeth are shaped, your dentist will take impressions that will shape your permanent bridge.
  • You'll get a temporary bridge until your next visit.

At your second visit, 2-4 weeks later, your dentist will:

  • Take out the temporary bridge.
  • Put in your permanent bridge, check how it fits, and adjust it as needed.
  • Cement the permanent bridge in place.

Maryland bonded dental bridge procedure

This type of bridge also requires two dental visits. At the first one, your dentist will:

  • Prep your teeth where the metal wings will attach.
  • Take dental impressions for your permanent bridge.

On your next visit, once your bridge is ready, the dentist will:

  • Put in the bridge, check its fit, and adjust things if needed
  • Apply a solution to the supporting teeth that gets them ready for cement
  • Cement the wings of your bridge to the supporting teeth

Implant-supported bridge procedure

This is more complicated and involves more office visits. You'll start by having the supporting post for the implant placed in your jaw. You'll have numbing medicine for this step, which might be done by an oral surgeon rather than your regular dentist. You'll have to wait 3-6 months after this surgery before you can move to the next step. 

Once the implant has fused to your jaw (called osseointegration), you'll be ready for the actual bridge steps. At the first visit to prepare your bridge, the dentist will:

  • Attach connecting posts called copings to your implant
  • Take impressions for your permanent bridge
  • Remove the support copings

When your bridge has been made, you'll visit the dentist again. This time, your dentist will:

  • Place your bridge and the support structures, called abutments
  • Check its fit
  • Attach it permanently, either using little screws or cement

If the teeth supporting your bridge are weakened, either by decay or getting knocked loose, your dental bridge might not hold up.

Your bridge puts stress on your supporting teeth. If they aren't strong enough, they could break.

You'll need to clean the area around your bridge carefully. If you let plaque and bacteria build up, you could get gum disease or tooth decay.

Can a dental bridge be removed and re-cemented?

Your dentist can probably remove and re-cement a loose bridge. But if your bridge has to come out due to a gum condition or tooth decay, your bridge might break when the dentist removes it. In that case, you'll need a new one.

The cost of dental bridges varies depending on the type of bridge selected and the area of the country where the procedure is done. Dental insurance will typically pay a percentage of the fee depending on your plan.

Dental bridge cost without insurance

If you don't have dental insurance, expect to pay $1,500 to $5,000 for a bridge. If you choose an implant-supported bridge, the cost could be as high as $15,000.

You can help your bridge last longer by taking good care of it. Among the steps you should follow:

  • See your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings.
  • Brush your teeth and floss every day.
  • Clean around your bridge using threaded floss and small brushes designed to clean between teeth.
  • Stay away from hard or very chewy foods.
  • Don't chew on ice, pens, or other things that might damage your teeth.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste that isn't abrasive.

Call your dentist if you have any of these problems:

  • Your bridge is loose or cracked.
  • It hurts to chew.
  • Your teeth become sensitive, or your gums are sore or bleeding.

Replacing missing teeth with a dental bridge should actually make eating easier. Until you become accustomed to the bridge, eat soft foods cut into small pieces.

It can be difficult to speak clearly when teeth are missing. Wearing a dental bridge should help your speech.

A dental bridge fills the gap caused by a missing tooth or teeth. Depending on what type you choose, the process will require at least two dentist visits, but it can take more. A bridge will let you chew normally, speak clearly, and avoid the problem of your teeth drifting to close the gap.

How long do dental bridges last?

A bridge can last 5-15 years before it needs to be replaced. You can help it last by taking good care of it. 

What are the disadvantages of a dental bridge?

The main negatives to a dental bridge are:

  • It can be damaged by any trouble with your surrounding teeth.
  • Your surrounding teeth can break under the strain.
  • You have to follow a good cleaning routine, or you risk tooth decay and gum disease.

What is the best type of dental bridge to get?

Your dentist will help you decide the best type for you. It depends on many factors, including the size of the gap, the health of the surrounding teeth, and price.

Are dental bridges painful?

Your dentist will numb your mouth for the parts of the procedure that might be painful. Getting a bridge shouldn't hurt.