Old Dentures: How Can Something Be Comfortable AND Cause Serious Problems?
Are you one of those denture wearers that has proudly worn one set of dentures for 10 years or more? Occasionally, we come across patients that tell us that they have worn their dentures for over 30 years and that they have become as comfortable and familiar as their favorite pair of old slippers. While this may sound like great examples of both frugality and a well made, long lasting denture, there are unfortunately, a number of very serious issues that often arise when dentures are not replaced more regularly.
To begin with, when dentures are worn down over time, changes in bite occur because the back teeth become worn down more quickly than the front teeth. As a result, this causes heavy contact on the front teeth which in turn, traumatizes the bone under the front part of your gums. This trauma causes the gums to shrink which leaves only soft tissue in its place.. When you do get a new denture, your new denture is going to require a great deal more adaptation on your part to wear successfully than it would if you had replaced it within the 5-7 year window that is recommended. Since a denture can only be as stable as what it sits on, and soft tissue is not stable, a new denture placed on soft tissue loses its ability to remain stable. As a result, the new denture’s subsequent movement can create soreness – like a shoe rubbing on a heel. Often the only way to truly remedy this situation is to have the soft tissue surgically removed – a painful process, to be sure. The ability of the ‘old’ denture to feel comfortable even in the midst of all this trauma is due to the fact that the denture has become very loose over the years and a loose denture is a forgiving denture. But while this comfort may seem like a good thing, it is actually causing serious problems that may end up requiring significantly more attention than simply replacing your denture with the 5 – 7 year window recommended.
Compromised Occlusal Vertical Dimension
When denture teeth become worn over time, the relationship between the upper and lower jaw bones (the mandible and maxilla) lose their integrity and the jaw can become too close – or “overclosed”. This may cause the jaw hinge (the condyle) to press against the ear canal which can cause headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and/or vertigo. In some cases, this unhealthy jaw relationship can be impossible to correct completely because the jaw muscles adapt to the overclosed environment. In addition, if there is damage done to the joint itself, surgery may be required.
Digestion and GI Issues
Worn denture teeth also leave you with a much reduced ability to properly chew your food. As a result, food is often swallowed more or less whole which can lead to digestive and gastrointestinal issues. Improperly digested food can also lead to nutritional deficiencies which in turn, can compromise general health and well being.
Premature aging is another factor that results from an overclosed denture. The facial characteristics we recognize as aging are directly related to an overclosed bite and the facial lining that can occur as a result. If this is caught early enough, new dentures can give you a younger appearance because they can help to correct the facial collapse that occurs when the jaw relationship becomes overclosed.
Hygiene is the last but certainly NOT the least of the serious issues that can result from wearing an old denture. Even with diligent cleaning, there is simply no way to avoid dentures become filled with bacteria over time. Having a significant source of bacterial contamination in your mouth for years at a time can create or contribute to a variety of health concerns.
So while those old dentures may feel like the comfiest pair of old slippers you’ve ever had, it is really time to trade them in for a new set of Oxfords every 5-7 years. While the Oxfords may not feel as comfortable right off the bat as your old dentures, you can be assured that you are warding off a whole host of serious, expensive and sometimes painful issues that can result when you hang on to your old dentures a few years too long.