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What Are Dentures?

Wiggle, wiggle, and finally — it's free. Losing a tooth can be fun for a kid. You can put it under your pillow and look forward to finding some money there in the morning. And then you can watch your new permanent tooth grow in its place.

But if a permanent tooth falls out, that's a problem. There isn't another one under the gum that can replace it. Unfortunately, this happens to some older people. And if permanent teeth fall out — or need to be pulled — an older person might need dentures (say: DEN-churs).

Dentures are a set of replacement teeth for any teeth that are missing. There are partial dentures, which take the place of only a few teeth and prevent the others from changing position. If all the teeth are gone, the person would need complete dentures, which replace every tooth in the mouth.

Both types of dentures are removable and usually made of metal and acrylic resin (say: uh-KRIH-lik REH-zun), a plastic-like material that is molded to fit the exact shape of a person's mouth. Suction helps hold the dentures in place, so they stick to the surface of a person's gums.

Like wearing braces or a retainer, dentures can cause soreness at first and take some time to get adjusted to. Also like braces or retainers, dentures need special care. They should be brushed daily with a special denture brush and cleanser and soaked in denture solution when not in the mouth.

Dentures are important for older folks because, without teeth, it's hard to smile, talk, and eat properly. But it can be a little weird if you see someone take out his or her dentures. It can also be strange to see someone, like a grandparent, without dentures in because he or she won't have any teeth. Try not to make fun of the person because this could cause hurt feelings.

Why Do People Lose Their Teeth?

People usually lose their permanent teeth due to periodontal (say: per-ee-o-DAHN-tul) disease, or gum disease, which is caused by a buildup of plaque (a film that sticks to your teeth) and bacteria that attacks the gums. Diseased gums aren't strong and healthy, so teeth can get loose and fall out.

Older people often have many cavities that have been filled over the years, and these fillings can weaken over time, leading to more tooth decay.

About half of older adults in the United States have most of their natural teeth. So that means a little less than half do not. The good news is that the number of people who need dentures has gone down and is expected to continue going down because people are getting better dental care.

Keep Your Teeth!

So if you want to keep your teeth for a lifetime, take good care of them now. Here's how:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles, and try to remember not to brush too hard, which can cause gums to recede. If your toothbrush is all bent out of shape from the way you're brushing, then you're brushing too hard!
  • Floss your teeth once a day.
  • Visit the dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning and checkup. Tell the dentist if you are experiencing gum pain or swollen gums or if your gums bleed when you brush.
  • Don't drink or smoke. Smoking or chewing tobacco increases the risk of gum disease.
  • Limit sugary snacks and soft drinks.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date Reviewed: 14-04-2014

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