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Tooth loss can occur for many reasons and dentures have been used to replace missing teeth for many years now. Dentures are removable false teeth made of acrylic (plastic) or metal. They fit snugly over the gums to replace missing teeth and eliminate potential problems caused by gaps.

Decades ago it was considered normal to lose your teeth as you grew old and they have come a long way since 700 B.C. Even compared to the dentures available to previous generations, which would frequently pop out of the mouth or fit poorly, today's dentures are often mistaken for the real McCoy. Fake teeth used in dentures are now made of either porcelain or plastic, and the base is usually plastic or acrylic.

If you have missing teeth, you lose the ability to chew on food and stay healthy. Losing your teeth can cause more than health problems. It directly affects your self-esteem as tooth loss impinges on your smile and the way your face looks.

Here are some consequences of tooth loss:
  • Speech problems.
  • Avoiding certain foods because of chewing problems.
  • Avoiding going out in public because of social embarrassment.
  • Anxiety and self-consciousness.
  • Stiff jaws and problems with relaxation.
  • Weakening of other teeth because there are less teeth to use when you eat.
  • Movement and inclination of other teeth and their possible loss.
  • Nutrition problems.
Types of dentures

When a patient has teeth, the dentist may construct a partial denture which fits false teeth in-between the standing teeth. The base of these dentures may be plastic acrylic or a metal called 'cobalt chromium'. The advantage of a plastic base is that it can easily have teeth added later. The metal bases allow a thinner base which is less obtrusive to the patient and also having the advantage of transmitting heat when food or drink is taken.

When the patient has no teeth in an arch the usual treatment is to provide a full or complete denture. Complete dentures can be either "conventional" or "immediate." Conventional dentures are made after the teeth have been removed and the gum tissue has begun to heal, a conventional denture is ready for placement in the mouth about eight to 12 weeks after the teeth have been removed.

Unlike conventional dentures, immediate dentures are made in advance and can be positioned as soon as the teeth are removed. As a result, the wearer does not have to be without teeth during the healing period. However, bones and gums shrink over time, especially during the healing period following tooth removal. Therefore a disadvantage of immediate dentures compared with conventional dentures is that they require more adjustments to fit properly during the healing process and generally should only be considered a temporary solution until conventional dentures can be made.

Holding dentures in place

The upper denture is held in place by suction, the saliva acts as a seal to help hold the denture in place. The muscles of the cheeks also help to a lesser degree.

The lower denture is held in place by gravity and mainly by the muscles of the cheeks and the tongue. When the denture is removed from the mouth and empty space exists between the tongue and cheeks, the denture is designed to sit in the space with the muscles on either side acting as support.

How should I look after my dentures?

Removable partial or full dentures require proper denture care to keep them clean, free from stains and looking their best. For good denture care:

  • Remove and rinse dentures after eating. Run water over your dentures to remove food debris and other loose particles. You may want to place a towel on the counter or in the sink so that the dentures won't break if you drop them.
  • Clean your mouth after removing your dentures. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush on natural teeth and gauze or a soft toothbrush to clean your tongue and palate.
  • Scrub your dentures at least daily. Gently scrub your dentures using a denture cleaner, mild soap or dishwashing liquid and a denture brush or soft toothbrush to remove food, plaque and other deposits. Avoid stiff-bristled brushes, strong cleansers and harsh toothpaste, as these are too abrasive and can damage your dentures. Toothpastes advertised as whitening pastes are especially abrasive and should be avoided with removable dentures.
  • Handle your dentures carefully. Be sure you don't bend or damage the plastic or the clasps when cleaning.
  • Soak dentures overnight. Most types of dentures need to remain moist to keep their shape. Place the dentures in water or a mild denture-soaking solution overnight. Don't soak dentures with metal attachments in solutions that contain chlorine because it can tarnish the metal.
  • Rinse dentures before putting them back in your mouth, especially if using a denture-soaking solution. These solutions can contain harmful chemicals that cause vomiting, pain or burns if swallowed.
  • Schedule regular dental check-ups. Your dentist will advise you about how often to visit to have your dentures examined and professionally cleaned. Your dentist can help ensure a proper fit to prevent slippage and discomfort. See your dentist promptly if your dentures become loose. Loose dentures can cause irritation, sores and infection.
The procedure

The exact denture procedure needed will vary with the type of denture needed. However the procedure will usually revolve around the following:

  • Assessment of your mouth and treatment planning.
  • Initial molds of your teeth and gums are taken using an impression material.
  • Accurate impression trays specially made for your mouth are fabricated at the lab. Secondary, more accurate molds of your mouth can then be taken.
  • Wax blocks are shaped in your mouth by the dentist. These blocks are molded to record the required shape of the dentures.
  • Your 'bite' is recorded. In the case of complete dentures the dentist records where the bite of the new dentures needs to be.
  • A trial denture is made up to check for accuracy of fit and appearance. The trial denture will use the same color and shape of teeth that will be on the final denture. Any changes are easily made at this stage. If changes are needed, new trial dentures are made up and checked with a 're-try' visit.
  • The final denture is made at the lab once all are happy with the trial denture.
  • At least one review appointment is required to check how you and your mouth are adjusting to the denture. Some final adjustments to the denture may be needed.

Usually at least four visits to the dentist are required for the denture procedure, and the process can take over a month to complete.

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