When Is A Flipper Not A Flipper

About a year ago, my dentist offered me a choice. He could replace a missing tooth with either a Maryland Bridge or a flipper. He explained the disadvantages of each, and neither option sounded desirable, so I demurred. I remember saying at the time that I could not understand why he was explaining reasons for me not wanting to choose either one of them, and he told me that he was just doing his duty.

Photo by Daniel Torobekov on Pexels.com

Then I said that I didn’t know what he meant by a “flipper.” My mind was racing through the various flippers I am aware of and none of them seemed relevant to dentistry. I thought about the people who buy, renovate, and resell houses. I thought of the movie about the dolphin named Flipper. I thought about the rubber things that swimmers sometimes put on their feet when they go scuba diving. I thought about a person who is flippant. But, try as I might, I could not find any knowledge of dental flippers in my memory. So, I asked for an explanation.

He sighed. Audibly. “Well,” he said, “We all know how to use Google.” And, if you think that sounded patronizing, you might be right. He then configured his computer to Google Images and streamed it to the video screen above me. He found images of dental flippers so that I could see what he was talking about. I would probably have understood a description, but since I was at his mercy in a dental chair, I succumbed to the condescension.

It was clear that he did not recommend this solution to my problem and so I asked to see a periodontist for a second opinion. When I saw the periodontist a few weeks later he, not surprisingly, recommended the most expensive solution; the Maryland bridge. This is a kind of metal bracing with a false tooth attached. The bracing is bonded (or, glued) to the backs of the adjacent teeth.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

To cut a long story short, I had the Maryland bridge applied, but it fell out a few months later. I decided that this would be a good opportunity to seek a new dentist and so that is where I went to get it reaffixed. The new dentist looked at the problem and said “We don’t normally recommend Maryland bridges. They tend to fall out.” You don’t say. Anyway, he did reaffix it and I got a checkup and cleaning in the process.

A couple of months later, the bridge fell out again. At this point, I decided I needed another option. The new dentist felt the same way and, in fact, thought that there were two additional possibilities not previously considered. An implant was unlikely but worth exploring. The space available was very limited, but he was willing to see if it was sufficient. The second possibility was a regular bridge, using the two adjacent teeth. Neither of these ideas had been presented to me previously as being up for discussion. Already, I am liking this new dentist.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

It is probable that the first dentist decided that the space was too small for an implant and he decided against presenting the option for practical reasons. The second possibility, the regular bridge, was not even offered and I wonder why. Perhaps he thought I couldn’t afford it. If so, he made an incorrect assumption. Perhaps the work was beyond his expertise, but in that case he could have referred me to another dentist. Either way, I resent not having been given the choice.

As it turned out, I had the new dentist go ahead with the new bridge. So far, I have gone through all the preliminary work and a temporary bridge is in place. I will get the new permanent bridge in a couple of weeks. In fact, the temporary bridge is much better than the Maryland bridge in both appearance and function. If the permanent bridge is delayed for some reason, I will have no problem in living with the temporary one.

So, being ignorant about flippers but being a fan of education has turned out to my benefit. I now have a much improved lower jaw and a new understanding of the various opportunities for filling a dental gap. I also have a better idea of how to avoid being pressured into a decision with which I am not comfortable. When in doubt get a second, and sometimes a third, opinion.


  1. Interesting. I hope your bridge works out. I have a gap in my lower left jaw, but the only suggestion I was given was the implant- which I thought way too expensive. Since it’s near the back it doesn’t show and I just left it. Probably if it had been more visible I would have tried something.

      1. My son has a theory that goes: Once you visit a dentist you will always be visiting dentists.
        I understand that some people – my wife is one – who do need dental care, and like you she has had problems galore.
        I occasionally get the odd twinge but I try to be careful and live with the occasional minor discomfort.

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