Denture Problems

A lot has changed since George Washington chewed over America's early problems with wooden teeth. But some things never change--like the problems caused by a new set of dentures: slipping, sore gums, excess saliva (or not enough of it) and difficulty chewing or talking.

True, the nations 23 million denture wearers have it a lot easier than their whittle-toothed forefathers, thanks to advances in denture technology. "But most people don't realize how long it takes to really get used to a new set of dentures," says Frank Wiebelt, D.D.S., associate professor and chairman of the Department of Removable Prosthodontics at the College of Dentistry at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. "For most people, it takes between four and six weeks."

During that time, a new set of choppers may need a hopperful of early adjustments, which can lead to plenty of frustrations. But before you let frustrations get the upper hand and you toss those new dentures across your neighborhood river, try these problem solvers that the Father of Our Country never knew.

Steam your vegetables. "You tend to bite your cheek or tongue when you get a new set of dentures--particularly your first set," says Dr. Wiebelt. To avoid this, chew slowly. Also, stay away from raw vegetables or anything else that's crunchy or difficult to chew. "It's funny, because one of the first things my patients want to eat when they get new dentures is a steak and a salad, and both are among the most difficult things to eat," he says. "A steak is very tough. And believe it or not, lettuce is also difficult to chew. So eat your vegetables, but eat them steamed, and try to avoid anything that's tough for the first two weeks or so.

When to See the Doctor

Occasionally dentures may cause problems that can't be treated at home.

"You should see a dentist immediately if you have prolonged gum bleeding," says Frank Wiebelt, D.D.S., associate professor and chairman of the Department of Removable Prosthodontics at the College of Dentistry at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. Other reasons to see a dentist:

  • You get a swelling around the mouth that extends up under the eye.
  • You get swelling in the throat that makes swallowing difficult.
  • Lumps, bumps or sores appear in the mouth.

These may be signs of gum disease, infection or other conditions that will require medical treatment, according to Dr. Wiebelt.

Read out loud. New dentures can make talking difficult for the first week or so. One of the best ways to overcome this problem is to read out loud, advises Jerry F. Taintor, D.D.S., an endodontist in Memphis, Tennessee. As you're reading, listen to your pronunciation and your diction and correct what doesn't sound right.

"Keep in mind that you're probably more aware of any changes in speech than anyone else is. But any time you speak out loud--whether reading or just talking to yourself in the car-you help yourself accommodate more quickly," says Dr. Wiebelt.

Videotape yourself. A videotape can help you, suggests George A. Murrell, D.D.S., a prosthodontist in Manhattan Beach, California. A videotape allows you to see what others see when you're talking. And a dentist can use the pictures to determine any problems in jaw or lip movements.

Massage your gums. To relieve sore gums associated with new dentures, massage your gums several times a day, following this routine recommended by Richard Shepard, D.D.S., a dentist in Durango, Colorado. Place your thumb and index finger over your gum, with your index finger on the outside. Massage each section of sore gum by squeezing and rubbing with your thumb and finger. This will promote circulation and give your gums a healthy firmness.

Drink a lot of water. New denture wearers often suffer from either dry mouth or excessive saliva. Either way, frequent sips of water will solve the problem, says Dr. Wiebelt. "Excessive saliva results because the mouth can't tell the difference between the dentures and food in the early going. By sipping water, you wash away the excessive saliva that can cause a gagging or sick feeling." Sucking on hard candy also helps dry mouth, but sipping water is better, especially for people who are overweight, have diabetes or suffer from serious tooth decay. See below for more informationon xerostomia (dry mouth).

Don't use adhesives. If you're having trouble with dentures slipping, don't reach for a denture adhesive. If you continually add denture creams and powder, a layer builds up between gums and dentures, which can cause the gum and bone to shrink over time, says Dr. Wiebelt. "The best thing to do is just wait it out, because slipping problems usually end in a week or so. If they last longer, there's probably a problem with the fit, and you should see your dentist." If you must use adhesives, be sure to clean your dentures and your gums thoroughly each night to remove all the adhesive. Not cleaning the mouth and the denture thoroughly can lead to infections, like candidiasis, and lead to an even more sore mouth.

Are Your Dentures the Right Fit?

It takes more than a month for most people to adjust to new dentures. But don't wait that long if you notice any of these symptoms, which can indicate a problem in the fit of your set.

  • Teeth don't meet properly. "When you close your mouth, the top and bottom dentures should meet at both sides of your mouth," says Frank Wiebelt, D.D.S., associate professor and chairman of the Department of Removable Prosthodontics at the College of Dentistry at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. "If they meet only on one side, that's one sign the fit is wrong."
  • The denture "teeth" are too long, resulting in problems with closing your mouth. (Your dentist can simply file down the teeth that are too long.)
  • Dentures continually cut into your gums or cheeks.

Cleaning Your Dentures

The best way to clean dentures and keep your breath fresh is to brush your dentures nightly with regular hand soap and lukewarm water, using a soft-bristle toothbrush. "If you're going to use toothpastes, don't use any brand advertised as a whitener. Those toothpastes are too abrasive for the denture surface," says Frank Wiebelt, D.D.S., associate professor and chairman of the Department of Removable Prosthodontics at the College of Dentistry at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.

Other tips:

Wear your glasses. If you wear glasses for reading or close work, put them on when you're cleaning your dentures. And make sure you have plenty of light. Your eyesight and lighting conditions should be optimal for a good cleaning. Dentures won't be cleaned properly through "feeling."

Clean dentures over a filled sink. That way, if you drop your dentures, the water will break the fall and prevent chipping. Alternatively, clean them over a thick towel.

Brush your gums and tongue. Even though you have dentures instead of a full set of teeth, brushing is important, because bacteria still invade the gums and tongue. Brush with a soft-bristle brush to remove bacteria and keep breath fresh. Toothpaste is optional. Rinse with salty water.

Xerostomia (Dry Mouth)

Dry mouth may make eating difficult and wearing dentures uncomfortable, or in somecase virtually impossible. Dentures essentially fit to the underlying tissues by the proper adaptation to the tissue and the interface of saliva to secure the denture, like a two plates of glass stuck together with water. The accurate fit of the denture, either new or a reline, is therefore of paramount importance to the success of the denture. The underlying tissues are soft and movable, so even with an accurate fit the dentures can slide or rotate a bit, but the intimate adaptation and saliva combine to allow them to stay in place. To relieve the dryness, drink water more often. Also consider a saliva substitute which is more viscous than water and aids in moisturizing the tissues. Avoid alcohol, tobacco and beverages with caffeine, as these only add to the problem of a dry mouth.

The following may be causes of xerostomia:

Candidiasis (click link)

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