Some of the earliest dentures were used by the Etruscans in what is now northern Italy circa 700BC and were made out of human and animal teeth, a material which remained popular through the 19th century despite its rapid deterioration due its ready availability. In the 18th century porcelain was first used for dentures and has continued to be the most common material ever since.
There are two choices patients have in dentures: complete vs. partial and conventional vs. immediate. Complete dentures are a “full set” meaning that there are no original teeth left in the patient’s mouth at the time, whereas partial dentures consist of a set of replacement teeth attached to a flesh-toned plastic plate which sits at the roof of the mouth and supports a metal framework which attaches it to remaining teeth. Conventional dentures are made and fitted for gums which have had time to heal and shrink after tooth loss or removal (usually eight to twelve weeks) and are considered permanent. In contrast, immediate dentures are prepared in advance before a scheduled tooth extraction and are positioned directly after the procedure. However, these immediate dentures require frequent adjustments and are only a temporary solution while conventional dentures are being prepared. Patients also have several choices regarding the material of which their dentures are constructed such as hard or soft acrylic (which offer more durability and comfort, respectively) and have the option of having metal clasps which secure dentures to the gums.
Dentures are made using a series of impressions, molds, measurements, and plastic patterns to assure a proper and optimally comfortable fit – augmented by a series of follow-up adjustments made after the patient has had several days to become accustomed to the feeling of dentures and to pin-point problems with the fit. Dentures can greatly improve a patient’s life through aiding articulation, aesthetics, mastication (chewing), and even self-esteem. Patients often inquire about the use of denture adhesives – we only recommend using them to enhance a properly fitting set of dentures and not to correct for a poorly adjusted set. Adhesive can also assist patients whose mouths are unusually dry and therefore uncomfortable during prolonged use, such as those taking cold medications, those who have experienced strokes, and the elderly. However, it must be noted that initially some excess salivation may occur due to the body’s natural response to having a foreign object in the mouth. Dentures are not usually worn 24 hours a day, but the dentist may ask a patient to do so for several nights in order to ensure a perfect fit. Another frequently posed question is whether there are alternatives to dentures – indeed there are, most notably in the form of dental implants which are a more expensive but more convenient and permanent solution to the problem of tooth loss.