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About Dentures

Simply stated, complete or full dentures are removable dental appliances constructed to replace all of the teeth in a dental arch. Partial dentures replace some or most of the teeth in a dental arch. Implant retained or supported dentures replace all of the teeth in an arch, but with dental implants to enhance stability.

Obviously, it is always advantageous to retain some or all of a patient's natural teeth, or to place dental implants. By keeping some teeth (or implants), an appliance can be anchored to these teeth. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. In these situations, it is necessary to construct a complete denture, which relies entirely upon the bone and gum structure for support, retention, and stability of the appliance.

On the maxillary (upper) arch, the design of the complete denture covers the ridge (the area in which the teeth were formerly located), as well as the palate. Through this enclosed area of coverage, the upper denture develops suction to help secure it in place. The amount of suction and resultant retention depends greatly upon the size and shape of the patient's palate. If a patient has a narrow or low palate, or has a "gag reflex" which necessitates shortening of the palatal coverage, the suction will be significantly reduced.

The mandibular (lower) arch poses more challenges for the denture wearer. The design of a lower denture must be "horseshoe" shaped, due to the presence of the tongue. Such a design provides little or no suction. Additionally, the tongue, cheeks, and lips exert forces which tend to unseat the denture and move it laterally. There are techniques which can be used to increase the stability of a complete lower denture. The most prominant of these, the "Neutral Zone" technique, places the mandibular teeth in a position which is compatible with the movements of the tongue, cheeks, and lips. If additional denture stability and retention are desired, implants should be considered.

Complete denture patients must also learn to chew differently than when they had naturally teeth. With natural teeth, chewing consists of sweeping circular motions. This action is possible, since the natural teeth are anchored in bone. A denture patient however, must learn to chew in directions which will not tend to move the appliances. It is necessary to chew in a more vertical (up and down) motion, as well as chewing on both sides of the mouth simultaneously (to balance the dentures).

Even the best complete dentures will never function as well as natural teeth. With proper denture fabrication and patience on the part of the denture wearer, they can allow the patient to function well, as well as provide a very esthetic restoration.

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