Q. I have vivid memories of my mother’s dentures in a glass next to her bed. As I enter my seventies, is this what I have to look forward to?
Let’s start with a definition. “Dentures”—also called “complete dentures” or “plates”—are for people with no teeth. Dentures cover your entire upper or lower jaw. There are removable partial dentures, too; these are made of replacement teeth attached to plastic bases, which are connected by metal framework.
If you practice good dental hygiene, you should be able to avoid dentures as you get older. Losing your teeth is not considered a normal consequence of aging. Teeth are designed to last a lifetime
Advancements in treatment and better oral hygiene have made dentures less necessary. One reputable survey showed that the rate that seniors lose their teeth has dropped by 60 percent since 1960.
But, if you are among the unfortunate who require dentures, here is some useful information.
Those dentures your mother wore can’t compare to the modern choppers. The latest technology and better materials make the dentures of today more comfortable and better looking.
Dentures are placed on the gums, which are over bone. Sometimes one or more natural teeth are kept and they fit under the denture. A denture that is anchored by real teeth is called an “overdenture.”
An overdenture is more stable; it inhibits shifting in the mouth. Teeth used in overdentures are usually given a root canal, which replaces the pulp with filling material. The pulp is known commonly as the tooth’s “nerve.”
Immediately after dentures are made, they often feel odd in the mouth. There’s a period of adjustment. One difficult challenge is eating, which is never the same as it was before dentures.
The following are some pointers for eating with dentures:
- Don’t bite with your front teeth or pull your food outward from your mouth.
- Chew food on both sides of your mouth simultaneously to stabilize your dentures.
- Cut food into small pieces.
- When you first eat with your dentures, you should avoid sticky foods, raw vegetables and hard-to-chew meats.
- It is more difficult to feel inside your mouth when you wear dentures, so be careful with hot foods and anything with small bones.
And here are some more challenges that usually confront denture-wearers:
- Speaking is a different experience. You should try speaking slowly at first, and practice by reading aloud.
- You may have more saliva in your mouth.
- When you sneeze, cough or yawn, your dentures may loosen.
- Dentures have to be removed at least once daily to rest the tissue below them. Most denture-wearers remove their plates before bed, and store them a cleaning solution.
- After you have been wearing dentures for years, your jaws become smaller, and the dentures don’t fit as well. Slippage, gum irritation and odor indicate that your dentures may not fit correctly.
If your dentures need a correction, go to your dentist. Relining and rebasing are alterations that adjust your dentures. Rebasing involves making an entirely new denture base, while relining modifies the existing one. Both procedures maintain the denture's existing artificial teeth.
It is also a good idea to make regular visits to the dentist. In addition to tending to your dentures, your dentist can examine your mouth for bone loss, oral cancer, infections and other conditions.
One last note about adhesives. They make wearing dentures easier. However, adhesives should not be used to compensate for dentures that don’t fit correctly.