Permanent Dentures: What You Need To Know
Written by Alex Burgess and reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND
Permanent dentures can be an excellent long-term solution to tooth loss. Most people are aware of traditional, non-permanent dentures. Permanent dentures are a newer alternative solution, one with many benefits.
Permanent dentures essentially use dental implants as “anchors” to hold the denture in place. It takes time, oral surgery, and a little more money to have permanent dentures, but it can be worth it.
This article will guide you through all that you need to know about permanent dentures including tips for eating during recovery.
Why Do You Need Your Teeth?
We don’t often talk about our teeth unless we are at the dentist. Yet teeth are essential to many basic functions of life. They help you eat, talk, and they contribute to your quality of life. These three functions are highly important parts of a happy and healthy life.
Role in Chewing
One of the first steps in the digestive process is chewing. And what do you need to chew your food? Teeth!
In order for your body to properly digest food, your teeth first have to break down your bites into smaller and smaller pieces. Chewing the food also mixes it around with your saliva, which helps in digestion. This process is important in preparing the food prior to swallowing.
Without teeth you would need to finely cut up, blend, or soften foods for consumption.
Role with Speech
Our teeth help us pronounce words correctly. They are one of the essential components in speaking clearly (1). Plenty of sounds in the English language require us to press our tongue up against our teeth or blow air through the teeth.
To test this out for yourself, try saying words including “th” or “s.” For example, think, teeth, smile, and snacks. When you verbalize each word, feel your tongue pressing up against your teeth and the air blowing between the teeth.
When someone is missing teeth, their speech can be more difficult to understand. Communication can become more challenging. Especially when talking to someone with poor hearing (an older spouse or friend).
Impact on Your Quality of Life
While it may not be obvious at first, our teeth are an important in maintaining a good quality of life.
Think about their role in chewing- this allows us to enjoy good food with lots of variety. Yet a loss of teeth may stop you from being able to enjoy sticky or crunchy foods like peanut butter or chips.
Consider the role of teeth in speaking. They help us communicate and stay connected with others.
Having poor dentition may also cause aesthetic concerns for some. Missing teeth can impact the appearance of your face and facial profile. Tooth loss can impact people’s quality of life by making them feel less confident in their appearance.
Poor oral health (including a lack of teeth) has even been tied to loneliness (2). Many older adults with dental problems have experienced a lack of self-confidence and difficulty communicating that leads to a lower quality of life.
And we want to maximize one’s quality of life as they age. Permanent dentures can assist in this task by preventing any issues with chewing, speaking, or feeling confident.
Nutritional Risk of Poor Dentition
Dental health is extremely important in older adults. When an individual does not adequately care for their teeth, they can develop many dental problems over time.
Poor dentition means your teeth are not present in the correct amount and/or arrangement within your mouth. Individuals with poor dentition may experience pain or difficulty chewing. These factors can make it challenging to eat a normal diet.
If you are struggling to eat the foods you normally do, you may be at risk for malnutrition or unintentional weight loss. It is important to recognize these two conditions so that they can be addressed with the appropriate health professional (such as a dietitian).
Malnutrition occurs when someone is either eating too much or not enough of one or more nutrients (3, 4).
When an individual has poor dentition, they are likely not eating enough and can become malnourished. In fact, research has shown that poor dentition is associated with malnutrition (5). Having no teeth can lead to poor dietary intake, although any dental problem can make it more challenging to eat (5).
It makes sense that having poor dentition can lead to malnutrition. If it’s hard to eat or painful, eating may be limited or avoided all together.
Unintentional Weight Loss
Unintentional weight loss can be another consequence of poor dentition. A basic definition is the unintentional weight loss is a loss of 5% or more of your body weight within 6-12 months without a known reason (6). Weight loss is almost never desirable among the geriatric population, so a significant decrease in weight should be concerning.
Poor dentition can lead to unintentional weight loss, just like it can lead to malnutrition. Not having healthy teeth makes it difficult to eat enough food to meet your daily energy needs. It is important for older adults to maintain their weight in order to prevent other health concerns.
What Are Permanent Dentures?
Permanent dentures are a long-term solution to missing teeth. The dentures are affixed to dental implants, which act like a replacement for the roots of your teeth (7). Permanent dentures can also be known as implant dentures or implant supported dentures if they are placed permanently and not removable.
Permanent versus Traditional Dentures
There are a couple differences between permanent and traditional, non-permanent dentures.
First of all, permanent dentures are not usually removable. They are designed to only be removed by a dentist, if needed. This is quite different than non-permanent dentures, which should be taken out every night.
Permanent dentures require a different cleaning process than traditional dentures. With permanent dentures, you treat them just like your own teeth; brush them as you would for teeth. Traditional dentures should be cleaned each time they are removed. The best way to do so is to brush them with a non-abrasive denture cleaner (8).
Benefits of Permanent Dentures
Permanent dentures can make life a whole lot easier. Here’s a few of the benefits of permanent dentures:
1) They will not cause as much irritation over time.
Traditional dentures need to be removed often, so they can cause irritation of the gums over time. Loose fitting dentures can allow food particles to get under the dentures, causing irritation when chewing. And if traditional dentures were not properly fitted or adjusted, they can cause rubbing or discomfort. Permanent dentures can be somewhat irritating at first, but your mouth soon gets used to them.
2) They feel more like teeth.
Permanent dentures can feel and look just like normal teeth. Permanent dentures return that feeling of normalcy by having teeth that stay in the mouth at all times.
3) They are not as noticeable to others.
Permanent dentures don’t ever have to be removed. Nobody will even realize that you are wearing dentures!
4) It may be easier to care for the dentures.
As we’ve explained, permanent dentures are just like regular teeth in terms of care. Cleaning simply involves regular brushing. Since this is already a habit for most people, it can be easier to remember to clean your permanent dentures.
Additionally, you do not have to worry about remembering to buy additional supplies, like denture cleanser tablets.
5) Permanent dentures may fit better than traditional dentures.
Over time, traditional dentures can loosen and change in their fit. Losing a significant amount of weight can cause the gums to shrink. Dentures then become loose and difficult to use. Poor fitting dentures can be harmful over time. Fortunately, permanent dentures do not change in their fit, as they are designed to be long-lasting.
Surgery and Recovery Process
Receiving permanent dentures is a multi-step process. It involves the placement of dental implants to hold the dentures in place. The process can be grouped into three general stages.
First, the teeth and jaw are prepared for the dental implants. Bad teeth may be removed, and bone grafting may be used to make sure the jaw is strong enough to hold the implants in place. (Note: Bone grafting is only done in some patients, as needed.)
Second, the dental implants are placed. A dental implant is simply a post that holds artificial teeth in place. This step can be done with local anesthesia, although some oral surgeons may recommend general anesthesia. The surgery is outpatient, meaning you do not have to stay overnight after the surgery is completed.
Third, the permanent dentures are attached to the dental implants.
In between each stage, the patient must wait a pretty lengthy amount of time. It takes time for the mouth to heal and for the dental implant to take. The whole process can take quite a few months.
Recovery along the way will take a few weeks. Initially, the patient may experience pain, swelling, and bruising in the gums. This is to be expected with most oral surgeries. Pain medications and antibiotics may be prescribed. The oral surgeon will provide you with all of this information on post-surgery care.
Nutritional Concerns for Post Surgery Recovery
Placing permanent dentures requires a relatively minor surgery. While the surgery itself is not concerning, we want to make sure that the body is well nourished afterward to promote quick healing. Seniors and their caretakers should be aware of possible problems with wound healing, reduced intake, and limited meal preparation after the surgery.
Wound Healing in the Mouth
Permanent dentures can cause temporary wounds in the mouth right after surgery. To ensure a fast recovery, the mouth should be kept clean. Regular tooth brushing and mouth rinsing will help.
Additionally, a healthy diet will promote speedy wound healing. The denture recipient should be eating an adequate amount of protein as part of a balanced diet. They may even have a higher protein requirement, so consult a dietitian to make sure they are eating enough.
Unintentional Weight Loss and Reduced Intake
Since the surgery can cause some wounds in the mouth, the patient may eat less to avoid any pain. Unfortunately, this reduced intake can lead to unintentional weight loss, which is particularly concerning in the elderly population.
We all have a minimum amount of calories (or energy) that we consume each day to keep our weight steady. If we eat less than that minimum, we will start to lose weight. In a person who just received dentures, this weight loss will slow the healing process and can have negative consequences elsewhere in the body.
So how can we stop unintentional weight loss? Find the foods that are high in calories and not painful to eat. This can look like soups, smoothies, and other soft or liquid foods. Keep reading below for more helpful tips.
Limited Meal Preparation due to Fatigue
As with any surgery, fatigue is to be expected in an older adult receiving permanent dentures. Their body will be dedicating more energy than usual towards healing.
It may be more difficult for that senior to prepare meals for themselves. If this occurs, make sure that caregivers or family are able to provide assisstance.
Tips to Help Optimize Oral Intake Post Surgery
With the pain and fatigue that comes after dental implant surgery, it can be difficult to maintain sufficient oral intake. Yet a proper diet is what will ensure a faster recovery. We want patients to be eating enough after surgery, so here are some tips to optimize oral intake and prevent malnutrition/unintended weight loss.
The soft diet consists of foods that are soft in texture, so they do not require much chewing. Examples of soft foods include mashed potatoes, eggs, and soft-cooked vegetables. Pureed foods are also helpful. These foods will be easy on the mouth while it heals after surgery.
Although the soft diet can get boring in texture, plenty of variety in the foods you eat can keep the diet interesting.
Use fruits and vegetables to add color to your meals. You can also enhance the flavor of your food by using herbs and spices. These tips will make your food more exciting and easier to eat.
High Calorie Smoothie Drinks
An excellent way to boost the calorie intake after surgery is high calorie smoothies. It is often easier to sip on a smoothie rather than eat a full meal. Liquids can also be less painful to consume since there is no chewing involved.
If you are searching for some delicious smoothies or high calorie beverages to make, take a look at the 5 Best High Calorie Drinks.
Meal Delivery Service
Since fatigue after surgery can be common, seniors may benefit from a meal delivery service. Many businesses and non-profit organizations prepare meals and deliver them to your doorstep. This service will eliminate the issue of feeling too tired to cook while providing the senior with nutritious meals to help them heal.
If you’re ready to set up a meal delivery plan, check out this article on the Top Senior Meals Delivery.
Permanent dentures can be extremely helpful to older adults. Not only do they help individuals maintain an adequate oral intake, but they also offer plenty of other social benefits. Permanent dentures may just be your solution to a better life ahead. If you are interested in permanent dentures, be sure to talk to your health care provider, dentist, or denturist.
- Farley DW, Jones JD, Cronin RJ. Palatogram assessment of maxillary complete dentures. J Prosthodontics. 1998;7(2):84-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-849X.1998.tb00185.x.
- Rouxel, P, Heilmann, A, Demakakos, P, et al. Oral health-related quality of life and loneliness among older adults. Eur J Ageing. 2017;14:101-109. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10433-016-0392-1.
- Ellis E. What is Malnutrition. EatRight.org Website. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/healthy-eating/what-is-malnutrition. Published September 23, 2019. Reviewed June 2020. Accessed July 7, 2020.
- World Health Organization Website. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/malnutrition. Published April 1, 2020. Accessed July 7, 2020.
- Saarela RKT, Soini H, Hiltunen K, Muurinen S, Suominen M, Pitkala K. Dentition status, malnutrition and mortality among older service housing residents. J Nutr Health Aging. 2014;18(1):34-38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-013-0358-3.
- Weight loss – unintentional. Medline Plus Website. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003107.htm. Updated January 19, 2019. Accessed July 7, 2020.
- Permanent Dentures. Dental Associates Website. https://www.dentalassociates.com/dental-topics/permanent-dentures. Accessed July 7, 2020.
- Denture cleaning. Oral Health Foundation Website. https://www.dentalhealth.org/denture-cleaning. Accessed July 7, 2020.