Dentures are also called "false teeth," but for centuries, dentures were actually made from real teeth. As early as 700 BC, people who lost some or all of their teeth could have them replaced with teeth from animals or other humans. Often the teeth of fallen soldiers and executed prisoners -- and sometimes even individuals who were alive but impoverished -- were used to fashion dentures. Donkeys, horses, elephants and hippopotamuses had their teeth and tusks removed and cut down to size too. These practices continued up until about the mid-1800s when porcelain and hard rubber came into use. By the 20th century, dentures were being manufactured mostly with acrylic resin and other plastics [source: Bodies...The Exhibition].
Using artificial or replacement teeth does more than improve your smile. Teeth are most obviously needed for chewing food and making it small enough to swallow and be absorbed by the body, but teeth also support the face and its structure.
Whether someone has straight, white and healthy teeth or crooked and less-than-pearly ones, simply having a set of teeth in the mouth keeps the cheeks, chin and jaw in place and conditioned. Missing even a few teeth can cause a chewing -- or bite -- imbalance, and a person's face can begin to change shape and even sag or cave in. Having dentures or replacement teeth is important for eating and ingesting to keep a body healthy, and it's vital for cosmetic and even physiological reasons -- affecting the balance of the head, neck and shoulders and, in turn, a person's balance.
Although dentures in the 21st century are made from manmade materials, the living materials in a mouth support them and keep them in place. Once fitted, dentures are pretty solid and stable, but the human mouth is constantly moving and changing. Wearing dentures means actively participating in these changes by caring for the whole mouth and the denture appliance.
We'll look at filling in the gaps between, next.