Unlike fashion styles, teeth (for the most part), don’t usually change much with each passing decade. Unless you were a rapper when it was all trendy to get gold teeth. Generally though, people just want teeth that are straight, white, and have no gaps.
As a denturist, I have a lot of opinions about what makes for a functional and great looking set of dentures – and I’ve also seen many horror stories, including patients who stick with ones well past their ‘sell by’ date just because they feel comfortable. It’s no different than those acid-washed jeans that should have been thrown out twenty years ago that are now tucked in the back of your closet because they fit like a glove. Except your dentures aren’t hanging in your closet; you wear them every day.
I like to think of myself as the Stacy and Clinton of smile makeovers. My goal is to educate patients on what specifically works for their individual mouth both in terms of functional needs and from an esthetic perspective.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that with dentures, it’s definitely important to consider what makes you happy; you are the one wearing them after all. I just want you to be able to make informed decisions!
By the way, did you know What Not To Wear was actually on BBC TV before the Stacy and Clinton version in the US? It was, proving that no matter what country you come from, we can all reap the benefits of expert guidance.
I strongly believe that denturism is a perfect marriage of art and science. While it is very easy to make bad dentures, it requires a lot more planning and effort to make good ones. And just like the experts urge you to have a little black dress or a good quality pair of jeans in your closet, there are several reasons to make the investment in a custom designed denture made from high quality materials.
Fit, Form & Function
Comfort is probably the most important justification people give me for remaining faithful to their old dentures. If they are comfortable, what’s the problem? However, dentures should fulfill all the functions that your teeth perform, which includes eating, speaking and supporting the lower third of your face. Unfortunately, many dentures don’t achieve one – let alone all three – of those things.
If your current dentures aren’t allowing you to enjoy all the foods you used to eat (hello, medium-rare Porterhouse), there’s a good chance that your diet is neither balanced nor healthy. When you can’t eat raw fruits and vegetables, or eat too much heavily processed meat, you are limited to those ready made foods which tend to be higher in fat, salt, and sugar.
Furthermore, because digestion begins in the mouth, if food is not properly broken down, by the time it hits the digestive tract, it can cause an even bigger social faux pas than having your teeth fly out in the middle of dinner. Gas, anyone?!
In my experience, the most common reason dentures don’t stay in is poor fit. This may be because the provider just didn’t know how to do it correctly, or when it comes to economy dentures, there is so little return on the investment, the cheapest materials and manufacturing techniques have been used in order to cover cost. The bad news is, those cheaper, poorly fitting dentures can put your jaw into an uncomfortable position, causing pain, headaches, and other problems.
In the case of complete upper dentures, they are largely held in place by suction, so in order to maintain that, they need to make a good seal against your gums. However, suction is a pretty weak force and it depends upon surface area for what strength it does have.
A lot of those ‘off the shelf’ economy style dentures are notoriously insecure and can come loose when speaking, laughing or sneezing. There is a well known story of a woman who was celebrating her 102nd birthday who, while attempting to blow the candles out on her cake, had her denture come flying out of her mouth. Yeah, I don’t think her guests were elbowing people out of the way for their slice. And while I strongly recommend soaking your dentures overnight, doing so in your glass of happy hour Chardonnay might lose you a few friends.
The functional flaw that comes with having a bigger surface area, besides the bulk, is that it impacts your ability to taste food, because that sense is compromised when the palate is covered. Fortunately, denture technology and materials (kind of like the Coke bottle glasses all the near sighted people were stuck with back in the 80’s) have come a long, long way.
Play Up Your Assets, Don’t Flatter The Flaws
Dentures that don’t properly balance the biting forces in your mouth can cause big time bone loss. As much as the initial changes can be disruptive, the long-term ones are even more significant. And these effects are cumulative.
If you are missing teeth and don’t wear dentures at a young age, or if you have poorly fitting ones, your jaw position is likely to get more distorted over time. There may also be functional problems in how you speak, chew, and even breathe.
If your dentures are causing discomfort on your gums, chances are, they will be doing the same thing to your jaw joint. As this joint shrinks over time, it can cause your cheeks (and lips) to sink inward. A very obvious indication that this is happening for women, is noticing lipstick gets on the denture while eating. Saliva and food may also dribble out as well, which then causes dry lips. And due to the changing physics of your bone structure, it is more likely that you will start biting down on your lips. All of this does not exactly make for a great ‘Kodak moment.’
The presence of teeth and a strong, healthy jaw bone provides support to your entire face. An improperly fitting denture can actually cause wrinkles around your eyes and those “lipstick” frown lines which turn into deep furrows and start to make you look like a marionette puppet. On the other hand, a bulky denture can cause your lips and cheeks to puff out, which then makes you look like you’ve put on weight. All of which are looks that most people intentionally try to avoid.
Ideally, a custom-designed denture should be slimming and literally serve as a face lift for your entire head.
Are Your Dentures Like Costume Teeth?
Halloween costume teeth are supposed to look fake. Unfortunately, the same can often be said for many economy brand dentures. However, while costume teeth must be removed to eat, if you find yourself doing the same with your dentures, then you need better ones. Seriously. The problem with some of the economy dentures are that they are made like costume teeth; off the shelf, cookie cutter molded plastic prosthetics, that just fit into your mouth. Who actually wants to look like Herman Munster, year round?
Many dentures also come with the teeth ‘pre-installed’. This means they’re a generic set of teeth that everybody gets. They look square and white and big and fake. If you’re lucky, you might get to choose which set of teeth you like from a small menu of options. However, one of the primary reasons that can make a denture look really bogus is that artificial teeth have a very smooth surface, which causes them to reflect light differently than natural teeth.
Gums are another thing I’ve seen on dentures that can look pretty cheesy if they’re not done well. It isn’t just materials where many denture manufacturers skimp on the base, it’s also craftsmanship. Most dentures are made with a very simple base, that usually come in a limited number of uniform colors, like a plastic toy, which is not the way natural tissue looks.
Another problem with economy dentures is that the gum tissue around the teeth isn’t very dense (the use of less dense acrylic is typically a cost saving measure), making the “gums” translucent. As a result, the teeth in the gums can actually show through. This gives the appearance that teeth continue far below the gum line which makes you look like you have receding gums (a hallmark of gum disease), so now you have denture teeth that look ‘unhealthy’. Kind of defeats the purpose, right?
How Do Your Dentures Make You Feel?
I see it with my patients all the time; not wearing dentures can make it harder for you to overcome some of the emotional difficulties that are part of tooth loss, which then leaves you less inclined to participate in social activities when you’re self-conscious about missing teeth.
You might not think that your dentures have anything to do with the ability to maintain an active lifestyle, but the truth is that your jaw is an essential stabilizer for the body. Research has shown that wearing dentures can improve the quality of life in general and help people remain active as they age. Think about it; who wants to leave the house without teeth? This is especially relevant for people who are at the younger end of retirement, of course it’s going to help maintain a longer lifespan; being a reclusive shut-in, is just not good for anyone’s health.
Teeth are essential requirements for speech and mastication, as well as providing structural support to the muscles in your face. Endentulism is devastating both esthetically and emotionally, because it also impacts you socially. When the dignity, appearance and self-esteem of those who have lost their teeth is severely compromised, the combination of a skilled clinician, better materials and digital technology can offer a much better result.
We think you should feel like a winner when you wear your dentures. And if you don’t, perhaps it’s time to consider getting new ones. Expert advice can help. Give our office a call at (207) 782-5308 to schedule an appointment with me so I can help put a smile back on your face.
I might not be a fashionista, but I am a denturista. Is that even a thing?!