What are dentures? And what to expect when getting false teeth?

Peter March

Written by Peter March DDS, Matthew Stewart DDS, Nichole McKenna DDS, Namrita Harchandani DMD, Jack Lawrence DMD, Benjamin Joy DDS

Every second American struggles with the problem of missing teeth. Having no restoration can lead to severe consequences concerning both oral and general health. Dentures are one of the most popular solutions.

These are removable appliances that can cover a whole arch or just individual teeth. Read our guide to find out which you can get the fastest, what materials are available, and what are pros and cons of each type.

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Partial dentures

Different types of partial dentures

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

A partial denture is a removable plate with one or more false teeth attached. It is fitted when some teeth are lost. The false dentition fills in the gaps. Precision attachments might be added for extra support and sturdiness.

Depending on what teeth you are missing, partial dentures can be made for just the back or front teeth. A combination is also possible.

There are several options to choose from depending on the condition of your mouth. Not everyone is a candidate for each type.

Acrylic partial dentures

Partial dentures are made from resin plastic in most cases. This material can be dyed to match the color of your gums. Acrylic dentures belong to the cheaper types. You can even have teeth added if you lose more. They can last for 5-8 years.

The downside is that they break easily, so you may have to replace them more often. Plastic dentures may also need adhesives, generating more running costs. They sometimes have metal clasps, but those are most commonly simply embedded in the resin and can break off.

Namrita Harchandani

Namrita Harchandani, DMD

Traditional partial dentures are much cheaper than permanent options. However, they may get loose over time and sometimes have a metal clasp that may show through when you smile.

Acrylic puts a lot of pressure on your gums. This can lead to irritation, soreness, and even lesions. Some patients have trouble with gagging, because in the case of the upper arch the acrylic covers your entire palate. The plastic can also damage neighboring teeth.

If you are only missing one or two teeth that are next to each other, you can consider a flipper tooth. They are cheap and quick to produce. Flipper teeth, however, should only be a temporary solution.

Flexible partial dentures

Flexible partial dentures are made from thermoplastic materials. With proper care, patients can wear these for up to 15 years.

This type doesn’t need adhesives or metal clasps, since they cling to the gums by themselves. The structure is less bulky, stiff, and rigid than acrylic dentures.

The material is clear and gums are visible, providing great aesthetics. Flexible dentures are also very quick to produce and not as expensive as metal cast ones. The downside is that if they break, they cannot be fixed and new ones have to be made.

Metal partial dentures

Metal partial dentures are more lightweight and durable than plastic ones. It is easier to support them with the use of clasps and adjacent teeth. Your palate does need to be covered. Appreciating fine dining is a lot easier because they stay in better and trap less food.

Cobalt chrome is most commonly used. It provides a great balance between toughness and flexibility. Metal partial dentures are unlikely to fracture even on trauma. They can last up to 10 years.

The base is metal covered in plastic. Metal parts may be visible in your mouth. This option is usually quite expensive. What makes up for this is that more teeth may be added along the way.

Interim partial dentures

Interim partial dentures are often made from acrylic. They are designed for the filler period after you get your teeth removed and before you get your permanent denture.

This type provides a quick solution if you don’t want to go without teeth at all. Designed to be temporary, you shouldn’t wear them for longer than a few months.

Fake dentition can be placed in the exact same position your natural tooth was. Interim dentures also provide occlusal support and make eating and speaking easier.

Full dentures

Full dentures

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If you are toothless, you will need a full denture. If you have some teeth remaining, it is up to your dentist to decide whether to create a partial or to extract the remaining dentition and fit a full prosthesis anyway.

Full dentures include 12 to 14 teeth per arch. Some end at the first molar, but a second molar is sometimes added for sturdiness. The determining factors are the space available and presence of opposing teeth.

The choice is between:

  • immediate,
  • same-day,
  • immediate,
  • interim,
  • overdentures, or
  • conventional dentures.

Immediate prostheses are fashioned before remaining teeth are removed. Same-day dentures are made in 24 hours, including necessary extractions. Interim ones may be worn while you are awaiting implant-retained or conventional dentures.

In conventional dentures, the upper arch covers the whole roof of the mouth and may be attached by suction. It may take a few weeks to produce one.

Implant-retained, or overdentures, provide the most support. They also help reduce bone loss which means the state of the mouth won’t continue to deteriorate. You will, however, need surgery.

What are dentures made of?

There are three main components of dentures: the base, the teeth, and the framework.

Base

Denture base

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Denture bases are almost always made of acrylic resin or chrome cobalt metal. The first is better for aesthetics, as the color can be matched to the patient’s gums. The second is more sturdy and less likely to break if the denture is dropped.

Flexible dentures are made of thermoplastic materials, most often nylon or valplast.

Framework

Denture framework

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Denture frameworks need a sturdy material to maintain the shape. This is usually some form of metal such as nickel chrome, stainless steel, or gold.

When it comes to partial dentures, the clasps are most often made of cobalt chrome. It combines sturdiness and elasticity, allowing it to last for many years.

Teeth

Metal partial denture

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

Acrylic resin is the most popular material for fake teeth. It is lightweight and cheap. The material also sticks to the base easily. The color is easy to control as well. This makes it particularly convenient for partial dentures, when teeth need to match the preexisting dentition.

Fake teeth can also be made from porcelain. The look and feel of tooth enamel can be matched exactly. This option is more durable than acrylic. The downsides include the fact that porcelain is expensive and prone to chipping. When such a tooth is damaged, it is much more expensive to replace.

How are dentures made?

Most dentures from 6 weeks up to 3 months to land in your mouth. The process includes several appointments to the prosthodontist or dentist. This is to ensure the best fit and durability possible.

The process is more complicated if there are implants involved. The whole thing might take up to 2 years.

It’s a good idea to ask about dentures during a periodic exam with your dentist. He or she will propose a treatment plan and schedule possible extractions. The type of denture will also be determined. This includes the materials and whether the prosthesis is to be full or partial.

Taking impressions is a necessary step to determine the shape of the denture. In the case of an immediate denture this might take place before teeth are removed.

The dentist will place a soft putty in your mouth after cleaning it. This might be done twice if you need a denture for both the top and bottom arches.

Lab technicians use it to make a dental cast and then the denture. This stage can take a few weeks.

Patients often come in several times at this stage to make adjustments. It rarely happens that a prosthesis will fit perfectly straight away. It might be thickened in some spaces if the denture is loose.

When you finally get your denture the dentist will instruct you on how to best take care of it. Make sure to follow this exactly.

Follow-up appointments are common as well as relines every year or so. It’s important to visit your dentist regularly to make sure your denture fits properly. If it doesn’t, it could cause irritation and lesions which can lead to denture stomatitis.

What are the most common denture problems?

Broken full denture

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Most denture problems are easily fixed. Many depend on how well you take care of your prosthesis. Patients often make critical mistakes, which can lead to these issues being a lot worse.

Due to their design, dentures often become loose. This may be due to poor care, but it can also happen when your teeth shift. That occurs if you don’t wear your partials enough or if you lose a supporting tooth. Ill fit may even lead to cancer.

Make sure to reline your denture regularly. Fit is examined during your yearly checkups. Do your best not to miss this appointment. Report to the dentist whenever there is a change in your mouth, for example if a tooth falls out. Most importantly, never attempt to adjust your dentures yourself. Experiments may do more harm than good.

Most new denture-wearers feel a diminished sense of taste at the beginning. The problem is especially common with full upper dentures that cover the palate. This is actually a placebo effect, since almost all of your taste buds are on the tongue.

Your mouth will get used to the new object and the taste sensation should gradually come back. In the meantime, use both sides of your mouth at the same time when chewing. You can also ask your dentist about chrome dentures. They have smaller plates, making the palate more exposed.

Getting used to your dentures may cause issues with speaking. Particularly words containing the letters “s” and “f” may be difficult to pronounce. Dentures may also give out a clicking sound. This is because your muscles, not used to them, may try to push the prosthesis out of your mouth.

Practice. Try reading out loud. Start by doing this when you are alone, so you don’t feel pressure to do well straight away. Relax the muscles on your face, especially your cheeks. If this is difficult, bite down gently and swallow. Report to the dentist if the problem persists, you might need an adjustment.

Dentures, especially partial or acrylic ones, put a lot of pressure on the gums. This often leads to sore spots on the soft tissues. That in turn can cause lesions and long-lasting irritation. The problem is most commonly poor fit or inappropriate shape of the denture.

Visit your dentist again for an adjustment. Those should be done every now and then anyway. Use the correct amount of adhesive (pea-sized drop). Clean your denture properly. Take your denture out each night for 6-8 hours and massage your gums.

When you wear partials, oral hygiene is of utmost importance. Since you put the appliance in every day, any remaining bacteria will thrive if you don’t clean it out. Dentures are a great place for bacteria to camp and wait for a chance to jump on your natural teeth, causing decay.

Conduct excellent oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly. Have your remaining teeth professionally cleaned at least once a year. Clean your denture once a day or after every meal. Store your prosthesis in water or denture solution when it is not in your mouth. Treat gum disease if you suffer from it.

Research shows that 64% of denture-wearers sleep with the prosthesis in and a further 44% removes them only for cleaning. These are critical mistakes. Bacterial and fungal infections are a common consequence.

Conduct excellent hygiene and take your denture out each night. Report to your doctor if you have ongoing inflammation in your mouth. The infection will be treated with a course of antibiotics.

Dentures often break from being dropped. This is usually on hard floors and empty sinks. It may occur at inopportune times but also while the prosthesis is taken out.

To prevent this, fill the sink with water or place a towel over it when you take your denture out. Make sure the fit is optimal, so the prosthesis doesn’t fall out while you talk or laugh. If it does get broken, visit a dentist immediately for denture repair. Do not attempt to fix it yourself.

Pros and cons of dentures

  • Can make eating and speaking easier

  • Cost-effective compared to alternatives

  • Custom-made to fit your mouth

  • Often feel awkward for a few weeks

  • Must be kept in water when not in the mouth

  • Separate denture and mouth maintenance

  • Saliva flow temporarily increases

  • Fit must be regularly checked and adjusted

  • Relines are needed every year or so

  • Adhesives are often necessary

  • Patients should avoid hard, sticky, and chewy foods

  • Have to be taken out when you go to bed

  • You may have to go without teeth for a while

Dentures facts and statistics

- Over 36 million Americans are toothless. - 90% of toothless Americans have dentures. - Each year roughly 15% of those who are toothless get dentures. - 80% of full denture wearers avoid eating vegetables. - The first dentures were made in the 7th century BC. - In the early 16th century dentures were made from wood and beeswax. The first porcelain dentures were made near the end of the 18th century.

FAQ

It may take up to 12 weeks to get a partial denture after a tooth is removed. This may be shorter if your mouth heals quickly. The cast, however, must often be done when the situation in your mouth settles.

If you want to go to a specialist, you can reach out to a prosthodontist. A large majority of dentures, however, are made by general dentists.

It is essential to manage your expectations, especially during the first few days. A denture will not feel as comfortable as natural teeth. This gets better with time, so you have to be patient and practice. Your denture will surely need an adjustment after a few days.

In the beginning, eat soft foods and wear your denture as much as possible. Rinse your denture with warm salt water to ease sore spots. Eating candies can help with increased salivation, as you will swallow automatically. Reintroduce harder foods into your diet when you start using adhesives. This is usually after about 2 weeks.

Practice speaking. At first, you may want to try this when you are by yourself. It’s a good idea to bite on something before talking. This pushes the denture into the right place, and speaking may be easier. Learn to relax your jaw and face muscles. You can find it difficult for a while due to the foreign object in your mouth.

Wear your denture for at least a few hours every day. You have it for a reason. A break of no more than 6-8 hours per night is recommended. Make sure to store it properly during that time.

References

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  10. Polyamide as a Denture Base Material: A Literature Review - NCBI
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  12. Porcelain Tooth - ScienceDirect
  13. Functional Impressions in Complete Denture and Overdenture Treatment - NCBI
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  15. Denture Stomatitis - MedScape
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  22. Digital Dentures: Achieving Precision and Aesthetics - DentistryToday
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  25. The dawn of modern dentistry in Japan: The transfer of knowledge and skills from foreign dentists to Japanese counterparts in the Yokohama Foreign Settlement - ScienceDirect