Dentures play a major role in senior health care today, offering a comfortable, natural-looking alternative for men and women who have lost some or all of their natural teeth. And although the materials comprising today's dentures have significantly improved compared to dentures of even just a decade ago, at some point in time, most dentures are going to need to be replaced with a new set, or at least relined to improve the way the current set fits.
If mom or dad complains of the following symptoms, it may be a sign that new dentures are in order:
- Soreness of the mouth, either generally or in specific spots. Dentures that don't fit properly tend to slip and move, creating sore spots and increasing the risk of infections. Sore spots are usually most noticeable when biting or chewing as dentures are pressed against the gum or palate.
- Dentures that keep falling out or sliding out of position. If one, or both, of your parents wear dentures, you may have experienced the following scenario: You’re in the middle of a conversation, and all of a sudden mom or dad’s speech becomes slurred and difficult to understand. No, it’s not a sign that your parent has had a stroke. His or her dentures have just come loose. While denture adhesives can certainly help keep dentures where they belong, when a denture doesn't fit properly, adding globs of adhesive is not the best way to prevent this from happening again.
- Infection. Keeping teeth, gums and dentures clean is an important part of any senior health care routine, but if dentures don't fit properly, they can leave gaps where bacteria and yeast can grow and multiply, eventually resulting in painful infections and, if left untreated, tissue death (necrosis).
- The gums—and sometimes other areas of the mouth—become swollen. The repeated friction caused by a denture that no longer fits properly can cause irritation in the tissues of the mouth, and that can cause swelling. Over time, this swelling can make wearing dentures extremely uncomfortable, and the continued pressure of the dentures will just make swelling worse.
- Chronic headaches or pain around the ears. Though you may not know it, your jaw motion can have a direct impact on your head. If a senior’s dentures don't meet properly, it causes problems with bite “balance,” and that can cause chronic headaches, jaw pain and ear pain, as well as the development of tempomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ.
Many older adults incorrectly believe that once they receive dentures, that's it. They have the same set for life (unless, of course, they become lost or broken). But, in fact, having dentures replaced or relined (the process of adding a lining material to make the dentures fit more snugly) is a normal part of having dentures. That's because once the teeth are lost, the normal process of bone cell regeneration in the jaw ceases. When old bone cells die off, they're no longer replaced by new, healthy bone cells. Over time, the jaw bone atrophies and becomes much smaller—that means the gum becomes skinnier and smaller too. Since dentures depend on a person’s gums for a proper fit, as the gums become slimmer, dentures need to be adjusted or replaced to continue to fit properly to prevent sore spots, infection, TMJ and other issues.
And there's another important benefit to having dentures replaced or relined over time: Dentures that don't fit properly or cause sore spots can interfere with a person’s eating habits, which can lead a senior to avoid certain healthy foods that are difficult to chew—and that means mom or dad won't be getting the nutrition needed for optimal health.
If mom or dad wears dentures, make sure that regular trips to the dentist are a part of your parent’s regular senior health care routine so that he or she can get the adjustments, relining or replacements needed to continue to enjoy the best health possible for years to come.