How to Keep Your Mouth and Dentures Healthy

Fitting and Wearing Dentures

Getting dentures is a very personalized process. Depending on the condition of an individual's teeth, gums and jaws, a dentist will recommend partial or full and permanent or removable dentures. While most types are hard acrylics, some come with soft liners designed to be more comfortable for people with problems clenching their jaws, or with gum issues and sensitivity [source: Williamson].

A complete examination of the mouth and teeth helps the dentist determine if some natural teeth will be used to anchor, or support a partial denture, or if more extractions of teeth need to take place for fitting a full set. Sometimes a periodontist works with the dentist to address any issues with gum health or periodontal disease.

If one or several teeth are being replaced, a bridge, or partial denture usually can be fitted and secured by clasps to remaining natural teeth. A removable partial comes in and out of the mouth by clasping onto anchors attached to teeth, and often these anchor teeth need to be crowned in order to secure the clasps. Metal clasps are less expensive while precision attachments cost more but are less visible.

Overdentures are also removable and they fit over remaining teeth while also filling in missing teeth with attached artificial ones. A permanent bridge also is anchored to surrounding natural teeth, but it is fastened securely and only removable by a dentist. Partials of all kinds come with a pink base designed to resemble the natural gum line [sources: ADA; NIH]. Implants are another option, though a very expensive one, where individual teeth are inserted into the jaw bone with screws. These are not traditional dentures [source: Alderman].

Full dentures are fitted after teeth are removed and the dentist can measure and cast the upper and lower gum lines. Some full dentures are made right after the teeth have been extracted, and these immediate dentures are ready to wear right away. Often, immediate dentures need to be refitted or adjusted after several months as gums heal and shrink back.

There is a waiting period with conventional dentures, however, as they're fitted after gums have healed from the tooth removal. They typically don't need major adjustments, but a patient has to wait without their new teeth until their conventional dentures are ready [source: ADA].

Getting used to either partial or full dentures takes several weeks to months, as the tongue and cheeks are conditioned to support the work of the new appliance. Eating and talking can be difficult at first, but often the transition just takes some time and practice, and speech returns to normal and chewing becomes more balanced on both sides of the mouth. There is a learning curve with hot, cold and crispy foods and the lack of sensitivity in artificial teeth, so it's important to be cautious while starting out. Often saliva production increases, as well, but it usually subsides after mouth muscles are retrained. Some relearning also comes with mouth movements involved in laughing or sneezing and having dentures slip out, for example, but a good fit will keep these concerns to a minimum [source: ADA].

If you don't want your dentures to slip, can't you just slather on some adhesive? We'll look at that sticky issue, next.