The Most Surprising Facts About Dentures That You Will Love
Dentures are older, more common, and cheaper than you might think, and that’s not all, as these orthodontic marvels are filled with surprises. In this guide, we’ll look at some of the many amazing facts about dentures, covering the people who make them, the people who wear them, and their long and storied history.
36 Million Have no Teeth
The condition of being “toothless” is known as edentulism, a Latin word that combines the prefix “e” meaning “missing” with the word “dent”, meaning “tooth”.
It’s a condition that many people are familiar with. In fact, 36 million Americans don’t have any teeth, and 120 million have lost at least 1 tooth.
Of these, 90% are said to have dentures.
Depending on your perspective, that’s either a huge number or a shockingly low one. We tend to lean more toward the latter, as it suggests that at least 3.6 million people have no teeth or dentures!
Every year, approximately 15% of America’s edentulous population has a set of dentures made every year. That’s a lot of dentures!
They Are Becoming More Common
In 2019, the global dentures market was valued at over $2.3 billion. In 2027, it is expected to exceed $3.8 billion, and will likely continue to grow thereafter.
So, what’s driving this growth?
Well, for one thing, dentures are better and cheaper than ever. As technology improves, materials get stronger and dentures become more stable, durable, and comfortable.
The senior population is also increasing and is expected to reach over 95 million by 2060. The population is growing on the whole, but people are also living longer due to improved health conditions and better healthcare.
Increased sales also help to inject more cashflow into the business, which can then be funneled into research and development, allowing those advancements to continue.
As a result, dentures may get cheaper, better, and become more accessible.
You Don’t Always Need Adhesive
The idea of gluing a set of false teeth to your gums and hoping they remain in place is a little daunting. In fact, it’s one of the many excuses people use for avoiding dentures. But the idea that you need adhesive is a misconception and it’s one that’s hard to understand for people who have never been fitted for dentures.
If you have ever been fitted for a mouthguard, you’ll have some idea of why adhesive isn’t necessary. Like a custom-fitted piece, dentures are designed to fit your teeth and gums perfectly, and once they slip into place, they can’t be removed without force and effort.
There are times when dental adhesive is needed. If you purchase cheap and poorly-fitted dentures, for instance, then it might be the only thing holding them into place. Your gums can also change over time and if you’re not getting your dentures checked and adjusted every so often, they can start to lose stability.
Generally speaking, however, if you get a good set of dentures, follow your dentist’s advice, and book regular checks, you won’t need to worry about adhesive.
The World’s Leading Producer is Not What You’d Expect
If you were asked to guess where most of the world’s false teeth are made, what would you say?
The United States has a pretty big dental industry; Canada has a good reputation when it comes to healthcare; China seems to manufacture most of everything else. All would be good guesses.
You could also be forgiven for guessing at the UK, thinking that we’re about to hit you with an ironic, “The country stereotyped as having the worst real teeth supplies everyone else with perfect false teeth!”
But none of those guesses are correct.
In fact, a large percentage of imported dentures and other dental supplies come from the tiny nation of Liechtenstein.
The country has fewer than 40,000 residents, roughly 1/10th of the population of Minneapolis, but it’s also home to Ivoclar Vivadent AG, a massive global organization that was founded in Switzerland nearly 100 years ago.
Ivoclar ships products to over 130 countries around the world and operates some of the most advanced research/development and manufacturing facilities in the industry.
It is located in the municipality of Schaan, home to just over 6,000 residents, and employs over 3,500 people.
If we assume that all employees actually live within Liechtenstein’s compact borders, that means Ivoclar hires roughly 10% of the total population and nearly 60% of the municipality’s population.
It would be akin to Walmart employing nearly 33 million Americans, or the entire population of Texas and Oklahoma.
George Washington Didn’t Have Wooden Teeth
Contrary to popular belief, the first official president of the United States did not have wooden teeth. In fact, while he did wear many different sets of dentures throughout his life, wood very rarely (if at all) played a part in their construction.
Some of these dentures likely took on a somewhat “wooden” appearance after they had been stained with age and wear, but dentists of the time knew that wood was a terrible material in more ways than one.
In fact, George Washington wore dentures made of everything from horse and cow teeth to ivory and human teeth, with some of the fittings made from metals like brass and silver.
He even kept two of his own extracted teeth so that they could be used to create dentures at a later date, and there are accounts of him purchasing extracted teeth from enslaved African Americans, likely for his own use.
Washington experienced dental issues throughout his adult life and seemingly suffered from an array of oral health problems, including regular pain and inflammation.
Dentures are Older than You Think
The Washington myth has had a big impact on people’s understanding of dental history. The idea that such an influential man had wooden dentures in the 18th century leads many to assume that dentures were a relatively new invention at the time.
In actual fact, false teeth had been available for hundreds of years at this point. Records suggest that the Etruscans—an ancient civilization that predated the Romans and resided in modern-day Tuscany—had false teeth as far back as the 7th century BC.
That’s before the Battle of Marathon, the Peloponnesian War, and the rise of Rome. It even predates Hippocrates, the so-called “father of medicine”.
Ancient dentures were rare and available only to a select number of the elite. They were often made from human or animal teeth, along with bands made from precious metals like gold.
The techniques used by the Etruscans were later adopted by the Romans (along with many other aspects of Etruscan society) and many hundred years later, the Japanese began developing their own dentures.
In Japan, they actually did use wood, although these dentures were meticulously carved to provide a realistic fit, and Japanese dentists later switched to more “realistic” materials like ivory and pagodite.
By Washington’s time, dentures were fairly common, certainly much more so than their ancient counterparts, and within a few decades they would become even more “advanced”.
Teeth from Dead Soldiers Were Often Used
As noted above, many early dentures were made using human teeth. In the case of George Washington, during at least one incident, teeth were taken from enslaved individuals. Technically, he did pay for them, but it’s unlikely that the providers had much say in the matter.
Other dentures may have been fitted with teeth extracted in this manner, as well as teeth taken from the recipient and from other patients.
By the early 19th century, however, dentures become decidedly more gruesome.
In 1803, Europe fell under the spell of Napoleon, an enigmatic and strategic general who led a French army across Europe, battling against a coalition that included Prussia, Austria, the United Kingdom, and many other major European powers.
Between 1803 and 1815, 4.3 million soldiers lost their lives. These young, fit, and otherwise healthy men often had relatively strong teeth, and gruesome opportunists decided to take advantage of that fact.
Once the needless slaughter had stopped and thousands lay dead or dying on the battlefields, human scavengers would descend and pick the bodies clean of all valuables, including their teeth.
The teeth would then be cleaned, chopped, and sculpted, before being fitted into dentures and sold to aristocrats. Dentures were expensive and as sugar became more widely available, they were also sought-after, which made this macabre practice highly lucrative for all involved.
And if that’s not enough to paint a vividly disturbing image in your mind, consider this, scavengers favored incisors, canines, and premolars. Not only were these were the teeth most visible and therefore more sought-after, but it also required too much effort to extract molars from unfortunate victims.
In later years, these teeth became known as “Waterloo Teeth”, so-named for the bloody 1815 battle that saw Napoleon’s army defeated, but there is no evidence to suggest that the name was used at the time.
In fact, the people buying these dentures probably didn’t know where the teeth came from.
They’re Not as Expensive as You Might Think
A custom-fit, high-quality set of dentures can cost upwards of $3,000. However, they are getting cheaper and depending on where you live, you could pay around a third of that.
What’s more, there are many cheaper options available, including online retailers selling dentures for just a few hundred bucks.
If you have the money, you should always opt for a custom-fit. Not only will it ensure your dentures look like the real thing, but they will also last for a long time and can withstand the usual rigors of daily life, including eating and drinking.
More importantly, a bad fitting set of dentures can cause a host of oral health problems, including pain and inflammation.
If you simply can’t afford those high costs, it’s worth looking at some cheaper options. It’s better to have a set of loose-fitting dentures that you wear infrequently than to have nothing at all.
Some People Make Their Own
$1,000 to $3,000 isn’t a high price to pay when you consider how much difference a set of dentures can make to your life, but if you don’t have that sort of money lying around, it’s just not an option.
That’s the situation that countless Americans have found themselves in and it’s why we’re seeing a marked increase in the number of search results for “DIY dentures” and other such terms.
You can even buy homemade denture kits from sites like Etsy, and these promise to help you craft your own dentures in a “few simple steps”.
It’s something we would seriously advise against. Dentures are made in multi-million-dollar laboratories using certified equipment and specially-prepared materials. It’s not a process or product you can replicate on your kitchen counter using a $50 kit from China.
What’s more, even the highest quality dentures need regular adjustments. The shape of your mouth changes as you age and your dentist will make tweaks to ensure that your dentures change with it.
If you have made your own, and somehow manage to get a perfect fit (and if that happens, you’ve missed your calling as a dentist!) you’ll still need to rely on copious amounts of adhesive to keep them stable as you age.
There May be Other Costs to Consider
Depending on the condition of your mouth and your remaining teeth, there may be other costs to consider when purchasing a set of dentures.
For instance, if you have multiple rotten teeth that need to be removed, you’ll also be charged for extractions. If you have gum problems and infections, you may need to undergo treatment before the dentures can be fitted.
In some cases, your dentist will advise you to have implant-supported dentures, which are more expensive, and in all instances, you’ll need to budget for additional check-ups.
You don’t simply buy a set of dentures, shove them in your mouth, and then avoid the dentist’s chair for the next 7 years. If you want them to remain stable and strong, you’ll need to book regular appointments.
You should also speak with your dentist about proper care and maintenance, because while minor breaks and chips can be fixed, some issues are irreparable, and every fix and replacement will cost you.
They Don’t Last Forever
Dentures don’t last forever and even if you care for them, maintain them, and book regular appointments with your dentist, you’ll be lucky to get more than 10 years out of them. In fact, many need to be changed after just 7 years, although it all depends on the user, quality, and level of care.
It is possible to extend this period, but you’ll need to consult with your dentist to make sure they are still in good condition and won’t cause you any problems.
If you’re paying $3,000 for a high-quality set of dentures and getting 10 years out of them, that’s the equivalent of just $300 a year or $25 a month. For a $1,000 set, it’s just $100 a year or $8.30 a month.
The average American spends more than that on toothpaste and toothbrushes, and when you consider how much we spend on teeth whitening, dentures begin to look like a bargain by comparison!
Dentures are Not the Only Solution
You don’t need to lose all of your teeth to start thinking about dentures. If your gums are diseased and your remaining teeth are rotten, your dentist may recommend that those teeth are pulled, and a set of dentures are secured in their place.
If the remaining teeth are healthy, partial dentures may be recommended instead. These dentures replace the teeth that you don’t have and make room for the ones that you do.
Dental implants are also an option.
A metal screw is drilled into your jawbone and a tooth is then screwed onto the top. It’s shaped to fit around your existing tooth and to provide a natural look while the screw simulates the strong and stable root system.
It can be an expensive and invasive procedure and it’s not for everyone, but if you want something a little more permanent, implants are worth considering.
Implants can also be combined with dentures to create more of a secure fit. The dentist will drill screws into your bone and then secure these to the dentures. X-rays will be conducted first to ensure that your bone is large and strong enough to take the screw, otherwise, the implant won’t hold.
It Can Take Several Weeks to Make a Set
High-quality dentures aren’t made overnight. Your dentist needs to run several tests, take multiple measurements, and then send everything away to be meticulously prepared.
None of this happens overnight and if you need multiple extractions beforehand, the process will take even longer.
If you don’t have any teeth, you’ll need to go toothless until your dentures are ready. Alternatively, you can opt for something known as immediate dentures, which will keep you smiling until the lab has finished with your set.
Immediate dentures are fitted after your teeth have been extracted. They are designed to provide some support for your gums and bones and will also aid with the healing process.
They may feel a little awkward at first, but immediate dentures will help you to transition to a full set when the time comes.