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

Peter March

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

One in every two Americans struggles with the problem of missing teeth. Having no restoration can lead to severe consequences concerning both oral and general health, not to mention your appearance. 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 the pros and cons of each type include.

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Types of dentures

The most common way to classify dentures is by whether they are full or partial. The two kinds have different delivery times and are recommended in different cases.

Partial dentures

Different types of partial dentures

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

A partial denture can replace a number of teeth if not all of the dentition is lost. It is a removable plate that can contain one or more teeth, not necessarily next to each other.

A partial denture may replace only the front and/or back teeth, as needed. Precision attachments might be added for extra support and sturdiness.

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.

There are several options to choose from depending on the condition of your mouth:

Not everyone is a candidate for each type. You may also want to consider a dental bridge as an alternative if you are only missing a tooth or two. Bridges can replace up to two adjacent teeth.

Full dentures

Full dentures

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

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. It all depends on how much stability your teeth give you.

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. In addition, they 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

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

Denture bases are almost always made of acrylic resin or chrome cobalt metal. Plastic 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

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

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

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

Initial consultation

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.

Impressions

Taking impressions is a necessary step to determine the shape of the denture. It needs to mimic the surface of your jaws exactly. 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 such models to make a dental cast and then the denture. This stage can take a few weeks.

Adjustments

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.

Getting your denture

When you finally get your denture, the dentist will instruct you on how to best take care of it. Make sure to follow their tips and advice exactly for best results.

Follow-up appointments are common, as are 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

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

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.

Looseness or poor fit

Due to their design, dentures often become loose. This may be due to poor care, but it can also happen when your teeth shift and the shape of your mouth changes. 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.

Difficulty in sensing taste

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 to chew. You can also ask your dentist about chrome dentures. They have smaller plates, making the palate more exposed. There is also an option of having the upper plate made without the palate at all.

Harder speaking

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.

Soreness and pain

Dentures, especially partial or acrylic ones, put a lot of pressure on soft tissues in the mouth. Dentures cutting into gums often lead to sore spots. 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.

Tooth decay

Having fake teeth does not mean you can neglect proper brushing and flossing. Especially if you wear partials, oral hygiene is of utmost importance.

You put the appliance in every day, so 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 plaque and decay.

Conduct excellent oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly. Have your remaining teeth professionally cleaned.

Remember about cleaning dentures with a brush and denture cleaner once a day or after every meal. This can also prevent stains, which are hard to remove from artificial teeth.

Store your prosthesis in water or denture solution when it is not in your mouth. Treat gum disease if you suffer from it.

Infection

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 and put you at risk of bacterial and fungal infections of the gum tissue.

Conduct excellent hygiene and take your denture out each night. Keep a close eye on the surfaces the dentures touch. Report to your doctor if you have ongoing inflammation or sores in your mouth. The infection will be treated with a course of antibiotics.

Physical damage

Dentures often break from being dropped. This is usually on hard floors and empty sinks.

To prevent cracks and other damage, 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

  • Denture adhesive is 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

  • Replacements are needed after a few years

Dentures facts and statistics

FAQ

What dental specialists can make dentures?

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.

What does it take to get used to wearing dentures?

It is essential to manage your expectations, especially during the first few days with your new smile. You will feel some discomfort at first. 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 food 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.

How long should you wear dentures each day?

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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