A Guide to Dentures: Cleaning, Cost, and Care

Research suggests that anywhere from 20 million to 40 million Americans wear dentures, which is anywhere from 9.5% to 19% of the adult population. That’s a lot, but it’s not surprising when you consider that the average American has lost 12 teeth by age 50, with nearly a quarter losing all of their teeth by 65.

Dentures are a relatively inexpensive solution to maintain the aesthetics and the practicality that a full set of teeth provides. That said, they’re also one of those things that few people know anything about, only learning about them when it’s time to get fitted for their first pair.

With that in mind, let’s clear up some of the most common misconceptions, answer some of the most common questions, and cover everything you need to know about dentures.

What are Dentures?

Dentures are artificial teeth designed to replace lost teeth. They are made to fit perfectly in your mouth and are carefully formed by your dentist. A denture can replace some or all teeth and can be fitted to both the upper and lower teeth.

If you have lost several teeth, your dentist will create dentures designed to fit your gums and match your existing teeth, both in shape, size, and color. If you’re getting a complete set, you can choose the color and work with your dentist to find the right size and shape.

Who Needs Dentures?

Obviously, the main sign that you need dentures is that you’ve lost all or most of your teeth. At this point, though, you will have started the process a bit late and will have had no time to prepare for the change. Pay attention to the following signs to understand when you might need dentures:

  1. Toothache: If you are constantly battling with toothache and find that another issue develops as soon as one tooth is fixed, you could be ready for a more permanent solution.
  2. Your Gums are Bleeding: Bleeding gums is a sign of gum disease and, if its persistent, it could be a serious issue. It’s normal to bleed a little every now and then, especially if you haven’t flossed for a while and suddenly have a good clean. Regardless, bleeding every day that isn’t a result of changes in your dental hygiene habits is not normal.
  3. Red and Swollen Gums: This is another sign of gum disease. If caught early, it can be treated, with your dentist recommending some treatments, but if left for many years, as is so often the case, you may experience bone loss and tooth loss.
  4. You Struggle Eating Food: Humans have a way of adapting to change. Without even realizing it, you may be eating on one side of your mouth to avoid a damaged tooth on the other.
    1. If you’re suffering from regular pains and are being forced to skip meals or certain food groups because of your teeth, it could be a sign of serious dental hygiene issues.
  5. You Hide Your Smile: Do you feel embarrassed to smile and show your teeth? This is something that many older adults struggle with and it’s often because they have multiple missing teeth. If it’s impacting your life, it could be time to get fitted for a pair of dentures and get your winning smile back!

What are Dentures Made From?

Artificial teeth have been around for hundreds of years, and they have improved considerably in that time. In the 18th century, some 1,000 years after they were first invented by the Etruscans, dentures became commonplace in European society. They were occasionally fashioned from animal bone but, more often than not, dentists used actual human teeth.

The teeth would be scavenged from dead bodies on battlefields across the continent, with graverobbers taking advantage of the endless warfare that raged during these times. In the 19th century, they became known as “Waterloo Teeth” and were named after the battle of the same name.

The 1815 Battle of Waterloo took the lives of thousands of young, fit, and healthy soldiers, making them prime pickings for callous scavengers.

Thankfully, modern dentures are not made from the teeth of unfortunate soldiers. Until relatively recently, they were made from porcelain, but most modern dentures are now crafted from a hard resin. The “gum” of the dentures is often made from a flexible polymer that is strong, durable, and flexible.

How Much Do Dentures Cost?

The price of dentures can vary significantly and will depend on the materials used, where you get them fitted, and whether any additional work needs to be performed. 

The cheapest price for a set of dentures is around $500 to $600 for a full set. At that price point, though, the quality will be pretty low and they may not last very long. Cheap dentures are cold-cured and often made from low-cost materials, which means they’ll be more exposed to damage and may also look cheap and fake.

For roughly 2x to 3x more, you can get a full set of heat-cured dentures that look more natural and last much longer. If you go the whole hog and pay an average of $6,000, you’ll get the highest quality set of dentures, one made from hard, heat-cured materials and designed to fit your mouth. They’ll look real and, with the right care, can last for years and years.

You may be partially covered by your health insurance, but this will generally be capped at just $1,500 or less and won’t cover you for a full set of premium dentures.

How Do You Clean and Care for Dentures?

Enamel is an incredibly tough substance and not something that your dentist can emulate. As a result, dentures are more vulnerable to harm in that they can erode faster, chip easier, and break more often than real teeth. It’s important to take good care of them, just like you did with your real teeth.

Rinse After Eating

Food particles can become lodged in your dentures, triggering a release of harmful bacteria that can gradually erode the material. It’s the same issue you have with real teeth only more pronounced, as dentures have a rougher surface that attracts more food debris.

Remove your dentures after eating and give them a good rinse under the tap. Use cold or warm water, not hot, and if you’ve eaten something particularly stubborn and fibrous consider submerging them for a few minutes.

Take Care

Your teeth can take a lot of damage before they break or chip, but the same isn’t true for your dentures. Don’t use stiff bristles when cleaning them and take care not to bend or twist the frames.

Soak Overnight

Purchase a pack of effervescent denture tablets and use these to soak your dentures overnight. You can soak them in a glass or cup or you can use a denture kit, which typically comes with tablets and wash baskets.

This substance will help to soften food debris and wash it away. The next morning, just run your dentures under the faucet (use warm water, not hot) and brush them with a soft-bristle brush.

Don’t use stiff bristles to scrub your dentures and avoid using harmful chemicals like detergents and bleach, not only can they harm your dentures, but you’re also putting them in your mouth!

Get Them Examined

Schedule regular visits with your dentist and have them look over your dentures. They can tell you if there are issues and if you’re doing anything wrong. They can also check your gums to make sure your dentures are not causing irritation.

How Often Should You Change Your Dentures?

According to the American Dental Association, you should replace your dentures every 5 to 7 years. As always, many people take these guidelines very loosely and may continue to wear their dentures long after this date. If you have the money in your budget and think that your current set is wearing away or has become loose, it might be time for a change.

You can discuss this with your dentist. Just make sure you plan in advance, as it can take several weeks or even several months to be fitted for a new pair.