But the truth is, dentures are more prevalent than you might think. Approximately 20 million women age 40 and over (that’s 19%!) wear full or partial dentures. Many believe that as we get older, we will eventually have to wear dentures.
So how likely are you to keep your teeth? Here are 8 warning signs that dentures may be in your future.
1. Your gums are red, swollen, tender, or bleeding
These are classic symptoms of gum inflammation—from the milder, early stage of gingivitis to the more advanced and severe periodontal disease. And they’re really common: Gum disease is the cause of approximately 70% of adult tooth loss, and affects three out of four people at some point in their lives, according to the AGD.
Fortunately, gum disease doesn’t automatically predict dentures. In the early stages, the cure can be as simple as teeth cleaning at the dentist’s office and better oral care at home. But if left untreated, gum disease can progress to bone loss, which in turn can lead to tooth loss—and possibly to dentures. “These are all correctable issues,” says Dr. Tuminelli. “If you catch these signs early, your dentist or prosthodontist can help you restore tooth health so you can keep your natural teeth.”
2. Your teeth are loose, shifting, or the gaps between your teeth are wider
When teeth shift position or when spaces open up between teeth, bone loss from gum disease may be the “hidden” problem. “Periodontal or gum disease is what we call a silent killer because you can’t see it,” says Dr. Jahangiri, “So it can progress heavily without your knowing it.”
Loose teeth can mean advanced gum disease, at least in that area, agrees Sandy Roth, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) and manager of the Denture Care Center in Brooksville, Florida. “Extensive periodontal treatment might be needed, and sometimes these teeth might have to be extracted.”
3. You have a toothache
Ouch! Severe pain can be a sign that decay has progressed so much that it’s attacking the nerve in the center of the tooth. Caught early, tooth decay can be treated with a simple filling, but when it’s advanced, the options are more invasive and costly.
“With extensive decay, we determine whether any teeth are savable, which teeth have to be removed, and whether a partial denture to replace some of the missing teeth would give the patient adequate aesthetic and functional results,” explains Roth. “It’s important to remember that once teeth are gone, they’re gone for good,” she adds.
4. You’re already missing a couple of teeth
Dial your denturist as soon as possible. “People who have lost more than two or three teeth should seek some sort of prosthesis,” says Dr. Jahangiri. “Otherwise the pressure on the remaining teeth will be too great.”
“Sometimes when a patient has lost their back teeth, they say, ‘I still have my front teeth and they look good, so who cares,’ ” she continues. “But when fewer teeth are doing all the work, there is a greater chance of losing more teeth. It’s a domino effect.”
5. You’re having trouble eating hard or chewy foods
“The difficulty eating certain foods might be caused by a cracked tooth, missing teeth, cavities or gum disease,” says Dr. Sherwood. “Removing the tooth is not inevitable though, especially if you catch the problem early. For example, a root canal and a crown might save the tooth.”
6. You have indigestion
If you’ve got a recurring stomachache or indigestion, your teeth might be to blame. “When patients can’t chew properly, they end up swallowing bigger pieces of food, and that’s hard on your stomach,” explains Dr. Sherwood. And not being able to chew properly—whether it’s from sore or cracked teeth—is a telltale sign of serious dental issues. A dentist can help determine if problem teeth are the underlying cause.
7. You’re self-conscious about smiling
Sometimes dentures are an aesthetic choice. “I have patients who elect to have a denture earlier than they might absolutely need to because of the appearance of their front teeth,” says Dr. Sherwood. Does it make a difference? According to Fixodent’s Beauty & Aging Survey, most female denture wearers (67%) say they smile more often since getting dentures. Even so, opting for dentures deserves careful thought, so consult with a dental professional to determine what’s best for you.
In general, there’s no reason for people to lose teeth today, unless they neglect them by not brushing, flossing and regularly visiting their denturists, fortunately, those things are in a person’s control.