How do Dentures Stay in Place and What to Do if They Are Loose
In the early days of dentures, hundreds of years before high-tech dental labs and pristine equipment, the hardest job was to make the dentures fit. They didn’t look like feel teeth and often had a loose and uncomfortable fit. It’s akin to wearing two monocles instead of a pair of spectacles. It was certainly better than being toothless, but it definitely wasn’t easy.
These days, that’s no longer an issue. But how do modern dentures stay in place? What mechanism keeps them locked in, is there anything you can do to improve the fit, and what happens when the dentures become loose?
Those are the questions that we will address in this guide.
How Do Dentures Stay in Place?
Dentures are designed to fit perfectly over your gums. They are made to fit, and that’s why you can’t simply buy a set of readymade dentures from the internet and then hope that they fit.
Your dentist will take a mold of your mouth and then send it away to the dental lab. Technicians can use the mold to craft an upper and/or lower denture that fits your gums like a glove. And because your gums are coated with a thin layer of saliva, that saliva will provide the suction that the dentures need to wedge in place.
If you have ever worn a tailormade mouthguard, whether to play sports or to protect against bruxism, you will have an idea of how these dentures work. You can talk, chew, and even tug at them, and they will remain in place.
Partial dentures are a little different from full dentures. These prosthetics are designed to replace several teeth and not all of them. They clasp around the remaining teeth to lock them in place, and this usually means that they fit better and remain in place longer than traditional dentures.
Partial dentures, unlike full dentures, benefit from the strong root system that makes your real teeth so strong and durable.
If your remaining teeth are decayed and loose, and you only have a few of them left, your dentist may recommend having them removed, as there’s not much worth saving and, in such cases, it makes more sense to opt for a full set of dentures.
If you have a strong jawbone and the money to pay for multiple procedures, you should consider implant-supported dentures.
The dentist will remove any existing teeth that have become impacted or decayed. They will then drill through your gum and into your jawbone to install titanium screws. These “implants” poke out of your gum and allow dentures to lock in place over the top.
The more implants you have installed, the more expensive and time-consuming the procedure will be, with 2 to 4 implants being the most common. Implant-supported dentures negate the problems associated with loose-fitting dentures and should create fewer problems and allow for more stability.
The prosthesis can still be removed and re-installed, and because the implants go through the gum and the bone, it doesn’t move around.
Why Do Some Dentures Fit Better Than Others?
As noted above, there are several different types of denture. But even if you focus on full dentures, ones that are installed without the use of implants and are designed to replace all teeth, some of them will fit better than others. There are a few reasons why this is the case, including:
One of the most common reasons for a poor denture fit is the patient’s anatomical structure. More often than not, it’s because they don’t have an adequate lower ridge, which limits denture stability on the bottom jaw. Your mouth can also change shape as you age and your dentures won’t change with it, so they will begin to feel a little loose and uncomfortable.
Dentist and Dental Lab
Most dentists and labs will provide you with the level of service that you need to get a high-quality set of dentures. It’s a relatively straightforward process and one that an experienced dentist and lab will have undertaken many hundreds (if not thousands) of times in the past. However, an inexperienced dentist/lab may make a mistake that leads to a low-quality set of dentures, one that doesn’t fit as well as it should do.
In such cases, you should go straight back to your dentist and let them know. You didn’t pay all of that money just so you could have a wobbly set of teeth in your mouth and an industrial-sized tube of adhesive in your medicine cabinet. It is their job to give you what you asked for, and no one asks for loose-fitting dentures.
Just make sure you don’t go there with all-guns-blazing and start blaming them because your dentures don’t fit well. There may be another issue at fault, including the ones listed below. It could also be that your gums are still healing, in which case they may adjust and fit better in time. However, usually, this would make the dentures tight in the beginning and looser with time, and not the other way around.
The quality of the dentures rarely impacts the quality of the fit, but it might. If you opted for a cheap set of dentures, you may find that they are not as strong, stable, or comfortable as you expected them to be.
Many budget-conscious denture-wearers are turning to the internet to save some money on a full set of dentures. There are “at-home denture kits” out there that sell you everything you need to make your own dentures, along with some basic instructions. They’re cheap, and you also get exactly what you pay for, because they won’t work well, last long, or look like the real thing.
You can’t replicate the work of an experienced dentist and a skilled, fully-equipped dental lab in your garage.
Your mouth needs a thin layer of saliva to keep your dentures in place. If you suffer from chronic dry mouth, it won’t be there, and the dentures won’t fit as well as they should.
Dry mouth is very common among denture wearers as it’s usually associated with older adults and with people who take certain medications.
Take opioid painkillers as an example. These drugs are commonly prescribed in the over-50s as they are used to treat everything from back pain and leg pain to broken bones. They are also some of the most widely available and commonly abused prescription meds in the country.
If you’ve ever taken opioids, you can attest to the effect that they have on your mouth and throat. They make everything dry, uncomfortable, and croaky, and if you’re taking the drugs day after day, your body won’t produce the saliva that it needs for a stable denture fit. Sedatives, anti-histamines, heart medication, blood medication, lack of sleep, limited fluid intake, drinking alcohol, and smoking cigarettes will also have an effect on your saliva levels.
Someone who doesn’t have a problem with dry mouth is likely going to experience far fewer denture problems than someone who does.
What About Dental Adhesive?
Not all dentures are perfect. There are a few things that can loosen your dentures over time and if you didn’t go to a good dentist, they may have been loose from the beginning. In such cases, you can use dental adhesive.
As the name suggests, dental adhesive is a mouth-friendly, non-toxic glue that creates a bond, allowing you to attach your dentures to your gums. It makes them harder to dislodge, keeping them in place for longer and ensuring they don’t dislodge under the pressure of eating or drinking.
In the past, zinc was used to create a stronger bond, but it has been steadily phased out and most adhesives are now labeled as “zinc-free”. There were numerous cases of zinc toxicity resulting from excessive use of denture adhesive, and while those cases were rare, it was enough to convince companies not to use this substance. It hasn’t changed too much, though, and denture adhesive is still a very strong and capable substance without the use of zinc.
Signs of Ill-Fitting Dentures
It’s not always obvious when your dentures don’t fit as well as they used to, as it’s something that can happen gradually over time. Initially, they fit perfectly and don’t give you any problems whatsoever. After a few months, you notice that they feel a little looser during the evening and after a few more months, you find that you need a little adhesive just to keep them in place.
Before you know it, you’ve gone from having perfectly molded dentures to ones that only stay in place with denture adhesive.
Firstly, your dentures shouldn’t feel loose, and they shouldn’t need a lot of adhesive. They are molded around your gums and should be able to remain in place without any external influence. Secondly, while it’s common for them to move a little from time to time, that shouldn’t be true all of the time and you shouldn’t feel that they are constantly waiting to fall out.
Other than this obvious issue, another sign of ill-fitting dentures is a slight clicking noise when you talk or eat. They may also be uncomfortable in your mouth and you may find that you need to adjust the way that you eat or talk to accommodate them. Again, this is something that happens gradually and it’s easy to overlook it.
If you have constant cuts and grazes in your mouth, and you feel like it’s always irritated and inflamed, it could be another sign of poorly-fitting dentures.
Some of the things that can cause your dentures to lose their grip over time include:
Changing Mouth Shape
The average patient will have multiple teeth removed before they have any dentures fitted. They may also have implants fitted. All of this work needs time to heal and as the gums heal, they will expand and then shrink.
Dentists accommodate for this when creating dentures, but you may need to book some follow-up visits just to make some additional tweaks after they have been fitted.
Your mouth will also change shape as you age. Once your gums no longer have teeth to support, they begin to recede, essentially shrinking in size and making the dentures feel loose. They were designed to perfectly fit your mouth shape, but your mouth is no longer the same shape, and so they don’t fit anymore.
There’s not much that you can do to stop this, and it happens to everyone. However, the process usually takes several years, by which point you may need a new set of dentures anyway.
Other changes in mouth shape can be triggered by disease, including gum disease. Just because you don’t have teeth anymore, doesn’t mean that you don’t need to worry about periodontal disease. You still need to keep your gums and your mouth clean and bacteria-free lest it build up and cause problems.
Certain cancers can change mouth shape, as well, although these changes are caused by tumor growth and you should be able to see and feel them.
The problem isn’t always with your mouth, it could be with your dentures. If the mechanisms are a little loose in your hand or they don’t feel as stable as they once did, it is time to send them away for a repair. Book an appointment with your dentist, tell them what issues you’re having, and they’ll give them the once-over.
Dentures can warp under pressure and heat. If you have been cleaning them with hot or boiling water, or you have let them dry out on the nightstand or sit next to a heater, they may have expanded. This could be what’s causing the problem, in which case they might be beyond repair.
Your Jawbone Recedes
For much the same reason that your gums recede, your jaw can also recede. It doesn’t have teeth to support and so the bone begins to reabsorb, causing significant changes in the shape of your mouth. One of the biggest problems with this is that it makes it harder for dentists to install implants, as they need a lot of strong bone for the titanium screws to take.
A receding jawbone can change the shape of your face, as well, giving you the impression of a sunken mouth. Dentures and dental implants will help to slow this process down, but if you have been without teeth for a long time before getting dentures fitted, and you are an older adult, you may continue to experience this problem even after the dentures have been fitted.
What to Do If Your Dentures are Loose
When you have lived with loose-fitting dentures for a long time, you might assume that it’s okay to continue as you are. You don’t mind using a little denture adhesive every now and then and while the oral irritation can be problematic at times, it’s not something that impacts your quality of life.
But it’s best not to ignore this issue and to get it fixed as soon as you can. Repeat inflammation and irritation could lead to other problems, including infections. And while you don’t feel like it’s affecting your life right now, once you get the dentures fixed and they fit properly again, you’ll realize just how much better things are.
It’s like ignoring the need for new glasses. You don’t notice the gradual changes in your eyesight because it happens so slowly. You start to recognize that you’re sitting a little closer to the TV than you used to and you can’t see things as easily as you remember, but it’s not something that has a big impact on your life. However, when you finally get your eyes checked and are fitted for a new pair of glasses, you realize how much you were depriving yourself.
Your eyes are literally opened to a new world. You see clearly, easily, and your life gets better as a result. It’s like moving from VHS to high-definition.
The same is true of dentures. Once you have a properly-fitting prosthesis you can talk freely, eat what you want, and stop worrying about them falling out.
If your dentures are loose, there are a few things you can do to provide short-term relief. If you have a dry mouth, consider increasing your fluid intake, eating more whole foods, and quitting smoking/drinking, as well as other habits that cause dry mouth. If that doesn’t work, add a little denture adhesive to secure them for now and then book an appointment with your dentist.
A good dentist will make the necessary changes without requiring a great deal of time or money. They may need to send your dentures away to the lab, but this process is usually fairly quick and cheap.
For dentures that were only just fitted, the process may be free, depending on your dentist and the package that you purchased.