My Gums Are Shrinking! – Denture Psychology 101

This title is somewhat misleading. The shrinking that most people speak of is the bone. This is why the life span of a denture is much less than most would expect. A reasonable life span for a denture is approximately five to eight years. However, the actual average age of a denture possessed by a new patient coming into my office, is fifteen to fifty years!  These are not dentures that fit well, but are merely dentures that are tolerable and do not hurt. The longer we wear dentures, the more bone is lost. We lose approximately one millimeter of bone height every year in the lower jaw. Unfortunately, by the time we have worn dentures for thirty years there is typically nothing for the denture to grab on to.

“My wife, husband, or friend has been wearing dentures for thirty years or longer and they have no problems…”

This is a common statement made by patients in our office, and often times it is difficult to address without sounding insulting. Unfortunately, the definition of chewing is different for all people. These people may eat what they want but it is unlikely they chew to the extent that they should be. Most denture wearers alter their diet to accommodate their chewing capacity. This capacity now alters their likes and dislikes when it comes to food choices. Denture wearers are notorious more for their ability to swallow than their ability to chew. They usually have excluded anything that requires hard chewing (raw vegetables, fresh fruit, seeds, nuts and meats) and may in fact rationalize why they do not eat them. “I never liked raw vegetables, not even as a child…”
“I have always cut my apples with a knife…”
“Do you know how many poisons and pesticides are present in the skin of an apple?”

This is the equivalent of complaining that the newspapers are making the print smaller every year. Perhaps someone may require glasses…

Successful denture wearers are actually very highly skilled individuals. They are people who have the ability to adapt and forget. They control a denture with their facial muscles and are capable of ignoring looseness or movement of the denture, provided it does not cause pain. They can ignore food beneath the denture or tolerate it at the very least. Unsuccessful denture wearers by contrast can’t forget the foreign object in their mouth. They are constantly aware of the movement of the denture in their mouths and the food that gets under them. They find speech affected by the dentures as well as confidence and self-esteem. They are well aware of the foods they avoid or consume minimally and miss them terribly.  In short, their standards are too high.  Remember successful denture wearers have lowered their expectations to the extent that denture wearing has become “normal”. The unsuccessful denture wearer is merely saying that 10% of the biting force of natural teeth is unacceptable for them. Dental implants provide countless improvements in the ability to chew. Food choices broaden, and denture discomfort becomes a thing of the past.

An inability to function with conventional dentures can affect and effect anyone considerably.  Ineffective chewing can lead to constipation. Tasting one’s food is lessened, because your ability to chew is lessened, and leads to a patient have a greater tendency to gulp their food. Working with a conventional lower denture can become so unmanageable that individuals will stop socializing with their friends and coworkers, more and more finding themselves eating at home alone. When needing to make an appearance at family functions, patients find themselves eating beforehand, learning to plan schedules very carefully so that no eating in public needs to take place. Patients can start to spend more time in social isolation.