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.
Gaps left by missing teeth can cause problems with eating and speech, and teeth either side of the gap may grow into the space at an angle. Sometimes, all the teeth need to be removed and replaced.
You may therefore need either:
- complete dentures (a full set), which replace all your upper or lower teeth, or
- partial dentures, which replace just one or a few missing teeth
Dentures can help prevent the above problems and, if complete dentures are needed, can improve the appearance of your smile, fill out your face and give you confidence.
This page offers information for anyone who is considering dentures, and advice for those who already wear them. It explains:
How dentures are fitted
A full denture will be fitted if all your upper or lower teeth need to be removed or you are having an old complete denture replaced. Usually, the denture is fitted as soon as your teeth are removed, which means you won't ever be without teeth. The denture fits snugly over your gums and jawbone.
Occasionally, however, your gums may need to heal for several months before dentures can be fitted.
You can see either see a dentist or a qualified clinical dental technician to have your dentures made and fitted:
- A dentist will take measurements and impressions (moulds) of your mouth, then order your full or partial dentures from a dental technician.
- A clinical dental technician will provide a full set of dentures directly to you, without you having to see your dentist (although you should still have regular check-ups with your dentist).
A trial denture will be created from the impressions that are taken of your mouth. The dentist or clinical dental technician will try this in your mouth to assess the fit and for you to assess the appearance. The colour and shape may be adjusted before the final denture is produced.
A partial denture is designed to fill in the gaps left by one or more missing teeth. It is either a plastic or metal plate with a number of false teeth attached to it. It usually clips onto some of your natural teeth via metal clasps, which hold it securely in place in your mouth. It can easily be unclipped and removed.
Your dentist will be able to take measurements of your mouth and order this for you, or you can see a qualified clinical dental technician, who can provide a partial denture to you directly after you have first seen your dentist for a treatment plan and certificate of oral health.
Read the British Dental Health Foundation leaflet about partial dentures, including which type of denture (metal or plastic) is best for you. This also gives information on an alternative called a fixed bridge, which may be suitable for some people.
Looking after your dentures
Dentures may feel a bit strange to begin with, but you'll soon get used to wearing them.
At first, you may need to wear your dentures all the time, including while sleeping. Your dentist or clinical dental technician will advise you as to whether you should remove your dentures before sleep.
It is not always necessary to remove your dentures at night, but doing so can allow your gums to rest as you sleep. If you do remove them, they should be kept moist - for example, in water or a polythene bag with some dampened cotton wool in it, or in a suitable overnight denture cleaning solution - to stop the denture material from drying out and altering in shape.
Keeping your mouth clean is just as important when you wear dentures. You should brush your remaining teeth, gums and tongue every morning and evening with fluoride toothpaste to prevent tooth decay, gum disease and other dental problems.
Clean your dentures as often as you would normal teeth (at least every morning and night), by:
- brushing them with paste or soap and water before soaking, to remove food particles
- soaking the dentures in a fizzy solution of denture-cleaning tablets to remove stains and bacteria – follow the manufacturer's instructions
- brushing them again, as you would your normal teeth (but don't scrub too hard)
Dentures may break if you drop them, so you should clean them over a bowl or sink filled with water, or something soft like a folded towel.
For more information, read the British Dental Health Foundation leaflet about denture cleaning.
Eating with dentures
When you first start wearing dentures you should eat soft foods cut into small pieces, and chew slowly using both sides of your mouth. Avoid chewing gum and any food that is sticky, hard or sharp-edged.
You can gradually start to eat other types of food until you are back to your old diet. Never use toothpicks.
You should not need to use denture fixative (adhesive) if the dentures fit properly. However, if your jawbone has shrunk a lot, adhesive may be the only way to help retain them. Your dentist or clinical dental technician will advise you if this is the case.
Some people feel more confident with their dentures, at least at first, if they use adhesive. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and try not to use excessive amounts.
Adhesive can be removed from the denture by brushing with soap and water. Remnants of adhesive left in the mouth may need to be removed with some damp kitchen roll or a clean damp flannel.
When to see your dentist
You should continue to see your dentist regularly if you have dentures, even if you have complete dentures, so they can check for any problems.
Dentures should last for several years if you take good care of them. However, your gums and jawbone will eventually shrink and the dentures may not fit as well as they used to and become loose, or they may become worn.
You should see your dentist as soon as possible if:
- your dentures click when you are talking
- your dentures tend to slip, or you feel they no longer fit properly
- your dentures feel uncomfortable
- your dentures are visibly worn
- you have signs of gum disease or tooth decay, such as bleeding gums or bad breath
If poorly fitting or worn dentures are not replaced, they can cause great discomfort and lead to mouth sores, infections or problems with eating and speech.