An estimated 120 million people in the U.S. are missing at least one tooth, and roughly 36 million don’t have any. From dinging your confidence to causing digestive issues, missing teeth have a wide range of consequences, and people naturally want solutions.
For centuries, the go-to option has been dentures. But even though they are so ubiquitous and we all know people who have them, most of us don’t know much about these dental appliances. That’s why we’ve put together this primer, covering everything you need to know about dentures.
Table of Contents
What Are Dentures?
Dentures are prosthetic teeth customized specifically to fit the shape of your mouth, gums, and remaining teeth. They come in multiple styles, from those supported by implants to flippers that just fill in for a couple of teeth. Dentures can be made from various materials, but porcelain and dental resin are the most common. The supporting structure mimics the look of the natural gums and is usually made from resin or polymer.
Dentures help improve appearance, which is why a lot of people get them. But this goes beyond just visually filling in gaps; they also restore the mouth’s structure, pushing the cheeks and lips back into their proper positions.
Just as important is their ability to restore function. While one or two missing teeth might not have a big impact, if you have more, or you’ve lost teeth with specific functions, you might struggle with chewing. Dentures allow the wearer to chew and eat just about any food.
Partial dentures can also help prevent certain oral health issues related to migrating teeth. Since they fill in for missing teeth, they can stop the remaining teeth from migrating. This keeps the teeth in proper alignment, reducing or eliminating strain.
Types of Dentures
Dentures are never one-size-fits-all. But aside from being customized to your mouth, they also come in different styles. From those designed to replace just a couple teeth to implant-supported appliances meant to address complete teeth loss, here are the options available to you.
Also known as complete dentures, these are prosthetics that replace a full arch of teeth. Depending on your level of tooth loss and damage, you might need to replace just one arch or both. Since they fully replace the teeth, they can only adhere to your gums using suction, denture bond, or a combination of the two.
If you’re missing multiple teeth but still some natural teeth left, partial dentures might be the answer. They attach to both the gum line and the remaining teeth to keep them in place. As a result, they tend to feel more secure than full dentures, but they’re still easy to remove for cleaning or sleeping.
Flippers are a type of partial denture that sits on the ridge of the bottom arch or the palate when used for the upper arch. It replaces no more than two missing teeth, and only if they’re side by side. They differ from standard partial dentures in how they secure themselves in the mouth and the number of teeth they replace.
Also called fixed partial dentures, this treatment combines dental implants and removable prosthetics. The dental implants are rooted to the jawbone while a secure locking mechanism keeps the partial denture in place.
They are incredibly secure and a solid compromise when you want the durability and functionality of dental implants but can’t afford the number you need to replace all your missing teeth. The popular all-on-4 and all-on-6 are types of implant-supported dentures, named for the number of implants they use.
Sometimes referred to as temporary dentures, these replace teeth that are so damaged that they need to be removed, filling the gaps until the patient is ready for a permanent solution. The dentures are made before the dentist extracts the teeth, then used while the tissues heal — up to six months post-extraction. Then, the patient can switch to longer-lasting options.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Dentures
Dentures are often the right solution for replacing missing teeth, but they aren’t perfect. Determining whether they’re right for you is all about striking the right balance of pros and cons as they apply to your unique case. Below are the main benefits and drawbacks to keep in mind.
Benefits of Dentures
- Natural Aesthetics: While dentures once had a bad reputation for looking unnatural, modern techniques have made it a thing of the past. You might find variations based on the model of dentures you buy and your provider, but in most cases, they are a near-perfect match for your natural teeth.
- Minimal Dietary Restrictions: With dentures, you can eat the same foods you enjoyed when you had a mouth full of natural teeth. The only difference is that you need to moderate certain foods to minimize wear on your appliance.
- Facial Balance and Tone: Our teeth help form the structure of our faces. When even one tooth is missing, it can lead to sagging that alters facial balance. When multiple teeth are missing, it can impact how the facial muscles move when talking and chewing, causing muscle loss and sag.
- Bone Retention: Your jawbone is like your muscles — if you don’t use it, you lose it. Dentures don’t fully prevent bone loss in the jaw, but they slow it down by stimulating the gums.
- Tooth Preservation: If you have remaining teeth and don’t replace the missing ones, it forces the natural teeth to carry more burden than they should. This results in excessive wear and tear, and can eventually cause further tooth loss.
- Enhanced Speech: We use our teeth to form sounds. When certain teeth are missing, it affects our speaking ability. Dentures stand in for the natural teeth, allowing the tongue to form sounds properly.
- Cost Effectiveness: While the cost-effectiveness varies between denture type and provider, they are still one of the most affordable methods for replacing missing teeth.
Drawbacks of Dentures
- Changes in Fit: Over time, you can expect your dentures to stop fitting like they did when you first purchased them. This can result in reduced comfort and slippage.
- Bleeding, Swollen Gums: Since they usually attach to the gums in some manner, dentures can sometimes cause irritation, swelling, and bleeding.
- Mouth Ulcers: While this is mostly an issue with ill-fitting dentures, it can happen even when they fit perfectly, usually in the first days or weeks of wearing them.
- Sore Teeth: Partial dentures use the remaining teeth as support, which can cause some soreness until you adjust to them.
- Maintenance: Dentures need special care to keep them clean and healthy to use. You can’t just treat them the same as your teeth, unless they’re fixed in place.
- Bad Breath: While proper maintenance can eliminate this, many people with dentures battle bad breath.
How to Get Dentures
With so many different types of dentures, there’s no universal process for getting them. Same-day dentures take hours, since they require dental extractions. Others take months because they require bone grafting and implant surgery. Your process might differ, but below is the general process for getting dentures.
The first step is meeting with a dentist for a comprehensive exam. This will evaluate your gum health and bone density, plus determine which teeth, if any, require extraction. With that info, your dentist will determine which denture options could be right for you — or if alternative treatments would be better.
If your dentist determines you need extractions, they will typically do them prior to taking your dental molds. The exception is when you want same-day dentures. Teeth should only be extracted if they are so damaged or decayed that no conservative option — like a crown — can preserve them.
Dental Molds or Scans
Your dentures are custom-made to fit your dental anatomy, from working with any remaining teeth to fitting the ridges of your gums. To get them right, your dentist needs to take dental molds or 3D scans. If you prefer one over the other, find a dentist who offers that technology.
Your dentist will send your molds or scans to a dental laboratory, which will create your custom dentures. The wait time for these dentures varies based on the lab and if you pay extra for expedited manufacturing. Expect to get your dentures anywhere from three weeks to three months after your molds or scans.
Fitting and Detailing
Once your dentures are ready, the lab will send them to your dentist, who will have you come in to try them on. At this appointment, they can often make small adjustments to ensure a perfect fit, though in some cases, the dentist might return them to the lab for corrections. Your dentist can also complete detailing on the teeth to make them look more natural.
Adapting and Adjustments
Assuming the fit is good and you are happy with the detailing, you’ll go home with your dentures the same day. From there, it’s all about getting used to them: learning how to care for them, as well as speak and eat with them. If anything feels off, contact your dentist to see if an adjustment could help. Once everything feels right, it should be smooth sailing.
How Much Do Dentures Cost?
Many people turn to dentures because they offer a solid balance between function, aesthetics, and affordability. But they don’t have a set price; what you pay will vary based on how many teeth you’re replacing, the type of dentures you’re getting, and your dentist’s rates. To know how much you’ll pay, sit down with a dentist (or several) and get a customized quote.
Typical Denture Price Ranges
- Full Dentures: $600–15,000 per arch
- Partial Dentures: $600–$2,500 per arch
- Flippers: $300–$500 per flipper
- Implant Supported Dentures: $5,000–$36,000
- Same-Day Dentures: $1,500–$2,500
Unfortunately, the prices above are not all-inclusive; dentures require ongoing maintenance and accessories unless yours are fixed in place. These items aren’t very expensive, but they can add up over time. Accessories most denture wearers require are:
- Denture bond
- Cleaning tablets
- Storage cases
- Soft-bristled toothbrushes
- Non-abrasive toothpaste
Plus, you may need to get your dentures repaired occasionally and eventually, you’ll need to replace them. Keep this in mind when thinking about your budget and the overall affordability of choosing dentures over other solutions.
Insurance Coverage and FSA/HSA Funds
If you have dental insurance, it most likely will help you pay for your dentures. It’s rare for policies to cover them in full, but most pay about 50% of the cost, making them much more accessible.
If you have an FSA or HSA account, you should be able to apply those funds toward the purchase. Should your remaining balance be more than you can comfortably afford, talk to your dentist about their financing options.
Life With Dentures
Overall, life with dentures isn’t too complicated. There’s a slight learning curve at first, but once you adjust to them and settle into a routine, it is typically smooth sailing. Your dentist will probably provide targeted advice, but here are the biggest aspects of life with dentures to keep in mind.
Dentures Require a Lot of Cleaning
Every morning, you should brush your dentures to eliminate any build-up on the surfaces, including the denture bond you use. If your dentures are removable, take them out after meals to rinse them and clean your mouth. You should also soak removable dentures overnight each night, then thoroughly rinse them each morning before brushing.
There Is a Break-In Period
Unless you have fixed dentures, you don’t jump straight to wearing them all day, every day. Your dentist should prescribe a break-in period where you steadily increase the number of hours you wear your dentures until your gums and other oral tissues adjust to their presence. If you jump into full-time wear too quickly, you can experience pain and even sores that can become infected.
You Might Feel Movement at First
This can feel similar to having loose teeth. In most cases, they’re either moving because you are still getting used to placing them correctly, or they aren’t moving, but it feels like they are. In either case, it’s just a matter of adjusting to your dentures.
With Speaking, Practice Makes Perfect
Many people struggle with their speech right after getting dentures. Besides lisping, they sometimes make a clicking sound when they talk. You’ll need to identify the sounds that give you the most problems, then practice them whenever possible. The more you work on those sounds, the better you’ll get at making them.
Best Alternatives to Dentures
While dentures are the go-to option for replacing missing teeth, they aren’t the only one. Dental implants and bridges are excellent alternatives when you need to replace missing teeth and don’t want a removable appliance.
Dental implants are prosthetics surgically embedded in the jawbone. First, the dentist installs roots, then the bone heals around them, firming them in place. Then, they add an abutment and crown, which look and function just like natural teeth.
Bridges are appliances that get their name because they bridge the gap between teeth — though sometimes, they only require a tooth on one side. The dentist preps and tops the remaining teeth on either side with crowns, then a bridge with a false tooth or teeth runs between them. They don’t look as natural as implants, but they function well and are usually pretty affordable by comparison.
If you are hesitant to get dentures, implants, or bridges because of their cost, consider snap-on veneers. These removable appliances cover most or all the teeth in an arch, hiding gaps from missing teeth, as well as various cosmetic concerns, including chipped, cracked, and discolored teeth.
They don’t fully replace the function of your missing teeth, and they don’t help you avoid bone loss, so they aren’t a perfect replacement for dentures. However, they are generally more affordable and might be a good option if you need some time to save up for a more substantial solution.
Even after centuries of use, dentures remain popular for their effectiveness and relative affordability. While there are several alternatives, none strike the same balance of function, aesthetics, convenience, and price.
Still, that doesn’t mean dentures are the best treatment in every case; work with your dentist to determine which solutions are ideal for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will dentures change the way I speak?
Yes. At first, they can cause a lisp and a clicking sound. But with time, you’ll adjust and your speech might even get better than before — assuming the dentures replace your front teeth. This is because we use these teeth to form sounds, so when they are missing, they inhibit our ability to talk.
Is the upkeep for dentures expensive?
No, but it adds up over time. Most people spend about $10 a month on their denture supplies. Factor this into your budget when deciding on the right treatment for you.
Why should I consider implant-supported dentures instead of all implants?
For most people, it’s just a matter of time and cost. It’s typically impossible to get a mouth full of implants at one time because it puts too much stress on the jawbone. You need to spread the entire process over 1–2 years. As for cost, assuming a lower-end price of $2,000 per implant, you’ll pay $64,000 to replace all your teeth. On the higher end, implant-supported dentures are around $36,000.
Should I expect my dentures to slip out of place when I’m talking or eating?
If they are well made, correctly bonded, worn properly, and fairly new, they should not slip out of place. That might sound like a lot of caveats, but they’re all pretty important. Your dentist and their lab are responsible for making a quality appliance, but bonding and proper wear are on you, and you might need a few weeks to get things just right. After that, it should be smooth sailing until your dentures wear out or your dental anatomy changes.
Can people tell if I have dentures?
Modern dentures are generally quite natural looking, so most people won’t realize you’re wearing them. Of course, this can vary between dental labs; some make more realistic appliances than others. Materials and the age of the dentures also play a role in how natural they look.
How often will I need to replace my dentures?
There is no set timeline. However, most people get around five years of wear out of them. The better you take care of them and your overall oral health, the longer they should last.
Are same-day dentures as good as regular dentures?
No, and in fact, they aren’t meant to be. Same-day dentures are supposed to be a temporary solution, covering your gaps directly after tooth extraction so the holes in your gum line can heal. Once they do, you’ll trade them out for permanent dentures.
Can I get dentures from my general dentist?
Yes, if they offer the service. Most do. You also have the option of working with a cosmetic dentist or a center that strictly offers dentures.
Are there any risks with getting dentures?
The biggest risks come with improper wear. If you wear them too often too soon, you can cause infections. And if you don’t clean them well, the build-up of bacteria will harm the remaining teeth and your gums.
Can I customize my dentures?
Somewhat. The most common features to customize are tooth color, size, and shape. You can talk to your dentist at your initial appointment about the exact look you want.