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Everything you need to know about dentures

Learn about partial dentures, full dentures, who needs them, how to get dentures made for you, and more.

Learning about dentures, either because your dentist has recommended them or because you think you might need them, may bring up all kinds of questions and concerns. If you have never had dentures, you may want to know what options are available, what dentures are made of, what costs you may pay, and how to take care of them.

Nearly one in five adults 65 years or older have lost all their teeth1, and that number nearly doubles for those over the age of 75.

Tooth loss at an earlier age isn’t uncommon either. Among adults ages 20 to 64, 91% had dental cavities and 27% had untreated tooth decay, the primary reason for tooth loss.2 Regardless of your age, if you have experienced toothaches or difficulty eating, smiling, and talking because of missing or damaged teeth, dentures may be a good solution for you.

Learn more about dentures so you can choose the best option for your oral health.

What are dentures?

A denture is a replacement for a missing tooth. A denture is removable and can be used for a single missing tooth or many missing teeth.3

There are two types of dentures: partial dentures and full (or complete) dentures. Dentures may be made of several different types of materials, so it is important to know the differences and how to care for them so they last a long time without needing to be replaced.

Partial dentures

If you have healthy teeth left, your dentist will likely outfit you with partial dentures.4 These dentures hook onto your remaining healthy teeth to fill in gaps of one or more teeth. They have a base that keeps the false teeth in place and blends in with your gums so they’re natural-looking and unnoticeable.

Partial dentures, also called dental flippers or bridges, are often meant to be permanent, though they can be adjusted to compensate if you lose more teeth in the future.

In some cases partial dentures are temporary, such as after tooth extraction and before implants. However, some people may use them on a long-term basis if they or their dentist decide surgery is not a good option. 

Full dentures

Full dentures may be a good option for you if you only have a few remaining teeth left or none at all.

If your remaining teeth are healthy, your dentist can create overdentures, which are a full set of dentures that can be placed over top of your existing teeth. These teeth can help keep the dentures in place.

If your remaining teeth aren’t healthy, however, your dentist might recommend extracting the teeth to avoid the development or spread of infection. In this case, they could offer temporary dentures that you can wear as your gums heal after extraction so you don’t have to go six months without a smile. After your gums are healed, they will begin creating your permanent dentures. 

These permanent dentures can either sit right on top of your gums or on top of mini dental implants, which are small, titanium screws attached to the bone that act as anchors for dentures.5

Who needs dentures?

Typically, your dentist will only suggest dentures if most or all your teeth are missing or damaged beyond repair. They’ll salvage as many of your natural teeth as possible including through fillings, root canals, and crowns. This is done in dentistry today, as opposed to extracting all teeth like in the past, because it is always better to retain as many of your healthy teeth as possible to give you the best possible health outcomes.

Dentures are necessary for a few reasons:

If you’re missing teeth because of an injury, you’re likely to lose more teeth. Because you have fewer teeth available to do the job, the pressure on each remaining tooth increases and they become more exposed to wear and tear.6

While it’s possible to replace a single tooth with a dental implant, each implant needs healthy gums and bone to support it. But that’s not necessarily an available option if you’re missing all or most of your teeth.

What are dentures made of?

The frame that the teeth of dentures are attached to is often made from a flexible acrylic resin for full dentures or metal for partial dentures.

The tooth component for both types of dentures,7 however, can be made of porcelain or acrylic resin.

Porcelain dentures

Porcelain dentures typically look more natural, as the type of porcelain used has a similar translucent appearance as natural tooth enamel. It’s also easier to color match to existing teeth in your mouth, if there are any.

Porcelain dentures also tend to feel more like natural teeth and are extremely hard and long-lasting, although they’re more prone to breaking if dropped.8

Dentures crafted from porcelain are also much more expensive than acrylic. As technology has improved, fewer people are using porcelain dentures, although they are still an available option that your dentist will discuss with you when you are deciding what route to take your dental health.

Acrylic dentures

Acrylic dentures are becoming the go-to for dentures because of their affordability yet still durable, and because they’re lightweight. 

They’re also easier to secure to the denture base and adjust over time as your mouth changes.

However, acrylic dentures aren’t as durable as porcelain dentures and need to be replaced every five to eight years.9 This may be an important factor when considering the long-term cost of dentures, so be sure to weigh your options.

How long do dentures last?

Dentures are an investment, and how long they last depends largely on how well you take care of them. On average, most dentures will last between 5-8 years.10

However, even if you take good care of your dentures, you might need adjustments. Your gum tissue will naturally change and recede over time, causing your dentures’ fit to change.

Because of this, it’s important to maintain regular dentist appointments so that your dentist can make sure your dentures fit properly and adjust them if they’re not. This will prevent your dentures from causing irritation and mouth sores. 

Your dentist can also adjust your dentures if you’ve lost additional teeth and give them deep cleanings as needed.

How dentures are made

Once your gums have healed from the tooth extraction (if there is one), your dentist will create a cast of your mouth. They’ll be able to make a mold for your dentures from the cast.

Your dentist might have to do this more than once, as getting a perfect fit can require some trial and error. 

Your first set of dentures might be slightly uncomfortable, but this should go away quickly. If the problem persists, your dentist might need to try another cast or adjust your existing mold.11

How to wear dentures

As you would expect, it takes time for wearing dentures to feel comfortable. Your dentures might feel loose at first, but the muscles in your cheeks and tongue will adjust.

Contrary to popular belief, dentures do not require adhesive to stay in place. Dentures should be held in place naturally with saliva and suction. This suction is important because it seals out food particles that can cause problems if they find a way in. 

If you need to use adhesive, your dentures probably need to be adjusted or relined. 

A small amount of store-bought adhesive can also help if your mouth is naturally dry and has trouble creating a natural suction. 

There are several types of adhesives available in creams, powders, or strips. No matter what type you decide to go with, though, always look for the American Dental Association seal of approval.

It’s also important to maintain your oral hygiene even if you don’t have any teeth left!

Using a soft, nylon toothbrush, gently scrub your gums, tongue, roof, and sides of your mouth every morning and night. This will clear away bacteria and plaque and help increase circulation to your gums.

Taking care of and cleaning your dentures

Taking care of your dentures is like taking care of your teeth, except for where they sleep. Your dentures spend the night sitting in a cup rather than in your mouth.

Rinse your dentures with water after eating and before going to bed to remove food particles. Then use a soft-bristle toothbrush and toothpaste, denture-specific paste, or even mild, non-bleach soap to gently scrub your dentures clean, making sure to remove any adhesive and wash away soap or cleaners thoroughly.12

Finally, place your dentures into a glass of cool water. You can add an effervescent denture cleaner to your glass to help remove stains or odors.

Never use hot water or household cleaners to clean your dentures. When shopping for denture-friendly cleaning products, always look for the ADA seal and pay close attention to the instructions.

How much do dentures cost?

The cost for dentures varies based on materials used, where you live, whether your dentures are full or partial, as well as if getting fitted for dentures required any tooth extraction. Based on information published by Bankrate13 in 2017, the most recent published data at the time of this writing, you might expect the following approximate prices for your dentures:

  • Low-cost dentures: $300-500 per denture, or $600-1,000 for a complete set of lower and upper dentures. These dentures may look less like real teeth because they are created through a process that cold cures the resin, making them look more artificial.
  • Better-quality dentures: $500 to $1,500 per denture, or about $1,000 to $3,000 for a complete set.
  • Top-line heat-cured dentures: $2,000 to $4,000 per denture, or about $4,000 to $8,000 or more for a complete set. The dentures in this price tier are typically completely custom with the highest quality materials available.

While the cost of dentures might seem expensive at first, investing in a set can make it easier for you to speak, eat and smile freely — not to mention provide some much-needed relief from chronic dental pain and discomfort.

How does dental insurance help with the cost of dentures?

When you have a dental insurance plan, you can expect some cost savings for services like getting dentures because insurance covers part of the cost. You can avoid a huge bill at the end if you enroll in dental insurance. 

Both Dental Health Maintenance Organization (DHMO) plans and Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans provide coverage for dentures, although the network of providers available differs, as well as the cap on annual maximums and other benefits.

If you are deciding whether or not dentures are right for you and want to save money on the total cost, explore available dental insurance plans to find out what will work for your needs and your budget.

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1. (Last accessed February 2020)
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12. (Last accessed February 2020)
13. (Last accessed February 2020)

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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