A fixed partial denture is a prosthetic dental restoration, or filling, that is binded permanently to tooth roots, dental implants, or natural teeth. It is used to fill in spans, or gaps, caused by one or more missing teeth. The lay term for a fixed partial denture is "bridge," because its function is to "bridge" the space between teeth.
Cemented to the teeth on either side of the span, or the abutment teeth, fixed dental bridges are not removable by patients. There are a variety of materials used to create the filling, such as porcelain, porcelain fused to metal, or gold. Porcelain used alone is considered the safest material for use.
Different types of fixed partial dentures are available, depending on variants in anchoring to the abutment teeth, as well as methods of fabrication. Fabrication can occur directly in a patient's mouth, through use of composite resin; however, a fixed partial denture is normally made through an indirect method of restoration. Typically, fabrication involves reducing the size of the abutment teeth in order to create room for the restoration material, as well as to maintain the natural alignment, and correct contact with the other surrounding teeth.
These differences account for different bridge names. If a partial fixed denture is to be supported only on one end, or by a single tooth, it is called a cantilever fixed partial denture. Use of this type of bridge is typically limited. Resin-bonded, or "Maryland bridges," are another option. These cost-effective bridges are usually used when spans occur in the front teeth without bite interference.
Aside from filling in spans, these dentures can be helpful in improving chewing abilities and speech. They may also be able to correct altered bites. Since the fillings prevent facial structure collapse, they may also protect personal appearance by delaying, or preventing, age lines and wrinkles that typically occur when facial structures begin to fall.
With proper care, and maintenance of oral hygiene, a fixed partial denture may last up to eight to ten years, and in some cases longer. This requires regular brushing, flossing and dental visits to control plaque and food buildup. Without these measures, infections that may result in the loss of the prosthetic are more likely to occur. In addition to these common measures, a dentist may require a patient to use floss threaders in order to remove bacteria around the bridge and gums more accurately.