Enjoying Better Dental Checkups

Do You Have A Dental Bridge? Watch Out For These Possible Problems

For many patients, a dental bridge provides a simple and affordable way to replace a missing tooth. There's a good chance you'll go through the rest of your life and have no trouble at all with your bridge -- but there also a chance you'll run into some issues with the bridge or the teeth adjacent to it. Being aware of these problems and their early signs is essential, since the earlier you notice them and seek treatment from your dentist, the fewer consequences you're likely to suffer.

Problem #1: Cracks or decay in the abutment teeth.

The teeth to either side of the bridge teeth are called the abutment teeth. These teeth support the bridge, so they bear a little extra stress compared to the rest of the teeth in your mouth. Over time, this added stress can cause them to crack or to develop premature decay. Signs that this may be occurring in your mouth include:

  • An unexplained ache in your jaw or in the teeth adjacent to your bridge.
  • Sudden sensitivity to hot and cold foods, or sensitivity to the pressure of chewing.
  • Bad breath that does not go away after brushing, or which goes away after brushing, only to return again a few minutes later.

If your dentist determines that your abutment teeth are, in fact, damaged or experiencing decay, he or she may choose to deal with it in one of several ways. If the decay is quite minor, drilling away the damaged portion of the tooth and then filling it may make it strong enough to support the bridge once again. In the case of severe decay, however, you may need to have the abutment tooth removed. You may then be fitted with a partial denture or dental implants to replace your several missing teeth. Replacing your bridge with several implant teeth is typically a good investment, since implants won't cause damage to the adjacent teeth like a bridge can, and they often last a lifetime.

Problem #2: Chipping of the bridge surface.

Many bridges are constructed primarily from metal amalgam but then covered in a layer of porcelain so that they look like natural-colored teeth. Over time, some of this porcelain may chip off, especially if you chew on crunchy items like ice or nuts, or if you grind your teeth at night.

It's easy to notice a chip in the bridge surface -- it will look like a shiny metallic spot on the false tooth. You'll want to report this chip to your dentist, though it is not an emergency situation, because if you delay having it taken care of, it may just grow larger. Usually, your dentist will be able to repair it quite easily by applying a new coat of porcelain to the damaged area.

Problem #3: Shifting of the abutment teeth.

Because the bridge replaces just the crown and not the roots of a missing tooth, the roots of the teeth adjacent to the missing tooth can shift into the space left by the missing tooth roots. Some signs that this is occurring include:

  • A "lifting" of the bridge. (The gap between your bridge tooth and the gum may appear to widen.)
  • A crooked appearance of the abutment teeth.
  • Aching in the jaw.

Unfortunately, if the roots of the teeth next to your bridge begin to shift, your dentist will usually have no choice but to remove the bridge -- and often the teeth that have begun to shift, too, since they are very susceptible to decay if left in the mouth. As is the case with cracked or otherwise damaged abutment teeth, your best bet is usually to have them replaced with implants.

Keep in mind that many patients have their bridges for years and never experience any of the above problems. Still, it is best to be on the lookout so you can act quickly if you do begin to notice problems with your bridge.