What are Complete Dentures?
Complete dentures or full dentures, as they are often referred to, replace all the teeth in either your upper jaw or your lower jaw, or both. So the only reason you would need them is because all your teeth are missing there.
A Set of Complete Dentures
It is generally the top teeth that have all been lost and some bottom teeth that remain, rather than the other way round. Perhaps due to the denser bone we have in our bottom jaws.
Here is an example of a complete set of dentures (‘full/full’ in dentist speak)- this patient no longer has any of their own teeth, so they must all be replaced by a prosthesis. That is a full upper and full lower denture. It is one of the most difficult things to get just right from a dentist perspective, and takes the most getting used to on the patient side.
The number of people who are edentulous- a posh word for having no teeth, has as you would imagine decreased quite a lot over the past twenty years. The majority of these people unsurprisingly are aged 65 or over. Periodontal disease has a large part to play in the tooth loss of the majority of cases.
How do Complete Dentures Stay in?
Complete dentures stay in place by suction and muscle control.
Suction is created by the forces that act on saliva between the base of the denture and your gums. Have you ever tried to get a thin sheet of plastic or something similar off a wet surface and the thing just appears glued in placed? Do you know what I mean? The same basic forces that are at work there, are at work in your mouth. But because the mouth is a complicated moving 3D shape and not just a flat surface, it is a little harder to achieve.
Some dentures have remarkable suction, and with just the simple forces of saliva, take some real effort getting out. These patients have a particularly favourable environment for dentures, namely good anatomy (ridges), good saliva and a correctly made set of dentures. I delve into more detail about successful complete dentures in another article.
When you have a new denture, the worst thing you can do, is coat it copiously with denture adhesives to hold it in. The acrylic surface of your denture needs to be properly wetted by your saliva before it starts to get some good suction and this can take a good week. There are many other factors involved in making, achieving and keeping this suction and I will go through them in this series.
The reason having a single tooth to hold in a denture is often a bad idea, is that this tooth allows air underneath the denture base, breaking the seal and suction that the saliva is trying to create. Yes the tooth may have a clasp on that stops the denture from falling out but it is also preventing the denture from sticking in. As with the plastic sheet on the wet surface… once you manage to get air underneath, breaking the seal, it no longer grips and comes off easily.
How Often do I Need a Check-up if I have Complete Dentures?
If you wear a full set of dentures, you still need to visit the dentist for a check up, but once a year is enough unless of course you have any problems.
It is very important for the dentist to continue to check your gums and ridges for any abnormalities, such as infection or oral cancer and to check your dentures to make sure they are fitting and functioning well and that you are able to clean them effectively. It only takes a few minutes to do and can help to identify problems early before they do damage.
An example would be an poorly fitting denture that is rocking, causing your ridges to be resorbed more quickly than if there was a even pressure being applied to your gums. Good ridges play such an important role in gripping and stabilizing your dentures, that if left untreated, the next set of dentures that you need made could be much less effective.
Is there a Specialist for this Type of Treatment?
If you have had a number of sets of dentures made and each dentist you visit makes a set that doesn’t seem to improve on the last- it would be sensible to consider seeing a specialist called a Prosthodontist. They are specialists in the field of replacing and restoring teeth (both fixed and removable options) and assessing/ modifying jaw relationships if necessary to provide you the best possible solution. It may be that your mouth is simply not a favourable shape, that your expectations of what the dentures can do are unrealistic or that you need to consider the cost of having dental implants to stabilise the denture.
There are a vast number of different problems associated with complete dentures and if you read a dental book on them- unlike a lot of other treatments, you will notice there is always a thick chapter on correcting denture problems- this says it all!