Not long ago, most people assumed they would need dentures someday. "Not so much a question of 'if' as 'when,'" says Matthew Messina, D.D.S., a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. But because of modern dental techniques, he adds, dentures are no longer inevitable. Instead, they're an option for people who have lost some or all of their teeth.
While dentures are just one of several options, which include dental implants and permanent bridgework, they're an important option.
Full dentures are complete sets of artificial teeth that replace the teeth in either the upper or lower part of your mouth. Partial dentures, which attach to existing teeth, fill gaps left by missing teeth. Both take some getting used to. But dentures can enhance your life by making you feel better about how you look and by helping to protect the muscles and bones in your face.
Good fit is key
Dr. Messina says most patients adapt well to denture wear. "But there is no way to know in advance if you will have problems. This is the reason why it is so important to retain as many of your natural teeth as possible."
One of the most important factors in adapting, Dr. Messina says, is having dentures that fit well. "Patients generally have no problems with eating or speaking when using properly fitting dentures."
He adds that a good fit means different things to different people. "Generally it refers to a situation where the dentures do not rock or move when speaking or eating. There should be no pain in the gum tissues."
Lisa Potter, R.D.H., past president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association, says there is no reason to settle for dentures that don't fit. "Comfort is the number one issue," she points out. "Go back to the dentist who made them and have them adjusted."
One way to ensure that dentures fit well, she says, is to do some homework before having them made:
If your friends are satisfied with their dentures, ask where they were made.
Find a dentist who is experienced at fitting people.
Ask how many sets of dentures the dentist makes each year.
Ask people who got dentures from this dentist if they are satisfied.
Practice makes perfect
For most people, Ms. Potter says, getting used to dentures shouldn't take more than a week or two.
Dentures, she says, can change the way food tastes. It may also be difficult to get used to chewing while keeping the dentures in place. "Taking smaller bites can help," she says. "Also, the denture wearer needs to get used to the position of the tongue, which doesn't have the same space to work in."
The tongue's space can also affect the way you pronounce words. One way to get used to the changes, Ms. Potter says, is to read out loud and practice the words that are difficult.
Proper care needed
Dentures require daily cleaning, Dr. Messina says, and you should care for your dentures the way you would your natural teeth. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist how to care for dentures.
Regular dental checkups can help ensure your dentures still fit well and don't need repairs. Also, the dentist needs to check your mouth for signs of oral disease, including cancer.
The best advice," Dr. Messina says, "is always ask any questions of the dentist. Information is the best way to avoid problems, and the dentist is always willing to help."
It's never too late
Keeping your own teeth, for most people, is preferable to wearing dentures. The National Institute on Aging offers these tips for good dental health:
Protect against tooth decay by using fluoride toothpaste or fluoride mouth rinse every day.
Prevent gum disease, a common cause of tooth loss, by brushing and flossing each day.
Regularly check your mouth for signs of disease, such as red, swollen or bleeding gums.
See your dentist every six to 12 months for routine checkups and cleaning, or immediately if you notice signs of disease.