What are Dentures?
Dentures, also known as false or prosthetic teeth, are designed to look like natural teeth and are usually made from acrylic (plastic) or ceramic and chrome (metal). Dentures are used to replace teeth that may have been lost due to an accident, gum disease, tooth decay, wear and tear, various health conditions or lifestyle choices.
A complete denture, also known as a full denture, replaces all the teeth in the upper or lower jaw. If correctly fitted, the denture will ‘seal’ to the gum. Sometimes implants are first fitted so the denture can be attached to the implant. This provides an even more secure fit.
Partial dentures – made with one or more false teeth – fill gaps where teeth are missing. These will usually attach to the natural teeth.
Dentures are professionally made at dental laboratories. They are fitted by a dentist or prosthodontist (a dentist who has specialised in prosthetic teeth). Firstly, the dentist takes a mould of the mouth, from which the laboratory creates a wax ‘set-up’. The dentist will place the wax in the mouth to get an imprint of the exact shape required. The laboratory then makes the permanent denture according to the wax. Once the denture is ready, the dentist fits it. Usually, patients will go to the dentist every couple of weeks after the fitting to check fit and adjust as necessary. This continues until there is a perfect fit.
The only alternative to dentures are implants, where a crown (a ceramic tooth) is fitted onto a metal pin which is permanently ‘implanted’ in the jaw. Your dentist can talk you through the various options to find what is best for you, taking into account how many teeth need to be replaced, budget and lifestyle.
Who needs Dentures?
You may be surprised at how many people wear full or partial dentures. With modern prosthetics, it can be almost impossible to tell the difference between real and false teeth.
People can lose teeth for many reasons – accidents or injury, gum disease (periodontitis), dental decay, non-communicable diseases like cancer and even lifestyle choices. It’s certainly not only the elderly who wear them, although dentures are more common among older people.
UK dentist Dr Stephen Keane, who has fitted many dentures over the years, says his youngest patient was 21 years old. Actors Ben Affleck, Emma Watson, Jon Bon Jovi and Nicolas Cage are a few of the famous people who have reportedly had false teeth at some point.
Benefits of Dentures
Replacing missing teeth has health, cosmetic and psychological benefits.
Teeth provide support to the face. If teeth are missing your face will have less structure. Your facial muscles may sag, making you look older. Dentures give the face more definition, making you look younger. Eating and speaking can be difficult without teeth. A correctly fitting denture will enable you to bite, chew and enjoy most foods once again.
Partial dentures help protect the remaining teeth and gums from excessive wear. They also keep remaining teeth correctly aligned. Many people feel embarrassed if they have missing teeth. It can have a dramatic impact on self-confidence. With a full or partial denture, you’ll find you can smile again with confidence.
Here’s an inspiring story about a young mom in Canada, who testifies to the life-changing difference that dentures can make.
Getting Started With Dentures
When dentures are first fitted, it may feel a little strange having something foreign in your mouth. Here are 5 tips from the experts to help you become comfortable and confident more quickly.
(1) Relax – in time it will feel ‘normal’. Your facial muscles and tongue will soon become used to them.
(2) Initially wear your dentures all the time – even when you sleep. This helps your mouth become familiar with the denture, and helps it ‘seat’ more quickly.
(3) Start by eating softer food cut into small pieces; introduce firmer and crunchy foods with time. Eating shouldn’t be a problem, but it may take a while to get used to. Chew slowly, using both sides of your mouth.
(4) Be cautious with hard, crunchy and sticky foods. Toffee and chewing gum are not recommended.
(5) Talking may feel strange or different at first. Practise speech by reading aloud or chatting to a loved one (face to face or on the phone). It will soon begin to feel quite normal.
Common Denture Problems and how to prevent them
If you experience any problems with your dentures, it’s best to see your dentist as soon as possible. Some of the most common denture problems include:
Clicking & slipping
– Dentures can occasionally ‘slip’, for example when you laugh or cough. Simply pop them back into the correct place, bite down gently and swallow. However, if your dentures ‘click’ whenever you eat or talk, they may need adjusting.
– Excellent oral hygiene is vital to prevent pressure points. You should clean your dentures correctly every day and continue to brush your mouth, gums and tongue to remove plaque.
– The other most common cause of pressure points and inflammation is poor fit. It’s important to see the dentist as soon as possible if your dentures stop fitting correctly. Dentures usually need adjusting or realigning every 2 to 3 years as the jaw and gum naturally change shape over time.
– A firm seal helps prevent food particles or other irritants getting between the denture and the gum. Ensure your dentures fit correctly and use a denture adhesive such as Protefix cream or powder if necessary.
– If you have a dry mouth or limited saliva, your dentures may not seal or sit as neatly as they should. Use an adhesive cream or fixative powder for added adhesion.
– The lower jaw has less gum support and this can make the fit less secure with bottom dentures. Adhesive cream, powder and cushions can be helpful.
Bacterial or fungal infections
– Even if you don’t have any of your own ‘real’ teeth, you still need to take care of your mouth for good oral health. Continue to brush your remaining teeth, gums and tongue with a soft brush twice a day to remove plaque. This helps prevent infections, including oral thrush, and helps stimulate circulation in the mouth.
– Use a cleanser to keep your dentures hygienically clean.
– If you suspect you have oral thrush or a bacterial infection speak to your pharmacist or dentist.
– If your dentures fit correctly they shouldn’t cause mouth ulcers. However, you may get ulcers in the bridging period (while you’re wearing temporary dentures) or if your dentures need an adjustment. Use a denture adhesive temporarily if this is the case, and make an appointment with your dentist for an adjustment.
– If you do get and ulcer, this article has expert advise to manage the ulcer and speed up healing. Your pharmacist can recommend products, Aloclair for example, that help relieve discomfort.
– Just like natural teeth, dentures can get plaque and tartar build-up as well as staining from food, drink, medication or smoking.
– Clean your dentures daily. For stubborn stains ask your dentist or dental technician to assist.
– Prevent staining by limiting the common culprits e.g. tea, coffee, red wine and berries or rinsing your mouth with water immediately after consuming these foods or drinks.
Bone loss and jaw degeneration
– Bone loss is natural over time and can be exacerbated by having missing teeth. However, a poorly-fitting denture can also damage the jaw. Maintaining a good fit is extremely important. It’s essential to go for regular check-ups and adjustments.
Do you need a denture adhesive?
A perfectly fitting denture does not usually require adhesive but in some circumstances, a quality denture adhesive like Protefix can be very useful. Times you may find adhesive helpful include:
– The bridging period, while you are wearing a temporary denture, before your permanent denture is properly fitted.
– When you have limited saliva or dry mouth, a very common condition medically known as xerostomia. Saliva helps ‘fit’ the denture to the gum so if yiu have less saliva you may find the denture doesn’t seal well.
– If you have a neurological condition, are very elderly or have had a stroke.
– At times when the facial muscles have to work harder than usual or you want to feel extra secure, for example for performers, musicians and public speakers.
– When you’re due for a refit. Because the jaw naturally changes shape, the fit of your dentures will alter over time. An adhesive can be a useful short-term measure until the denture is adjusted or replaced.
It is not recommended to use adhesive long-term in an attempt to ‘fix’ a bad fit. Loose dentures can cause a host of problems so it’s important to see your dentist if the fit changes.
Caring for your dentures
Dentures are a long-term investment in your smile. Taking care of your dentures helps extend their life and prevent potential mouth problems.
According to the South African Dental Association, denture care includes daily cleaning. Clean your denture using water, Sunlight dishwashing liquid or specially made denture cleaner like Protefix Active Cleanser which won’t damage the surface. Don’t use abrasive cleaners or toothpaste.
Brush your dentures gently at least twice a day to remove plaque, food debris and fixative. Use a normal toothbrush or a specially-designed denture brush which is larger and firmer. Brushing will help prevent staining; if there are stains or tartar build-up, get your dentures professionally cleaned.
Handle dentures carefully as they may break if dropped. Place a soft towel on the surface where you clean your denture. If the denture chips, cracks or breaks, consult your dentist. Don’t be tempted to do a DIY repair, as this may cause permanent damage.
Dentures are designed to remain moist or wet; they can become damaged if they dry out. Leave dentures soaking in water or a cleaning solution when you’re not wearing them, at night for example.
Extreme heat can warp the denture material. Be cautious with hot drinks and never soak false teeth in very hot or boiling water. Rather use Protefix Adhesive Cleanser for a hygienic clean without heating.
What do dentures cost?
Dentures are a long-term investment. A quality denture, if properly cared for, can last for many years.
The cost and quality vary. A top quality denture made with teeth like the Phonares by Ivoclarvivadent, can look like natural teeth and last longer. Ensure you get your dentures from a properly qualified professional i.e. a dentist or prosthodontist. Poorly made dentures can damage your mouth and cause serious health problems.
When you have a new denture fitted, expect to see the dentist every couple of weeks for minor adjustments. After that, go for a regular check-up, ideally at least once a year. Dentures may need adjusting after 2 to 3 years.
In South Africa, dentures are available through the public health system, usually at University teaching hospitals. Ask your local clinic or hospital for the nearest denture service.