Not too long ago, getting dentures was seen as an inevitable part of getting older. Few people expected to celebrate their senior years with a complete set of natural teeth. But now, most assume that reaching retirement doesn’t necessarily include dentures.
But over 30-million Americans do have dentures, for a multitude of reasons. While, good oral hygiene and regular checkups typically results in a lifetime of natural smiles, some people can’t afford regular, preventive dental care. Others didn’t have ready access to a dentist when they were children, and are now dealing with dental problems. Health conditions such as diabetes can cause dental issues that result in tooth loss. Accidents, such as sports injuries and collisions - can also damage and weaken teeth.
In some cases, people get dentures simply because they have no or very few remaining natural teeth. More typically, dentists will first extract badly damaged or extremely weak teeth and replace the teeth with dentures. Depending on how many healthy (or reasonably serviceable) teeth remain, a person may get either upper or lower dentures, or both.
It’s natural to worry that your dentures will look fake, will hurt, won’t allow you to eat certain foods like steak or corn on the cob, will make you talk oddly, or will suddenly slip out of your mouth while you’re talking or eating.
But with the right set of dentures, and the care of a skilled dentist, none of these worries should prove true. Modern dentures look amazingly natural, and function almost like natural healthy teeth.
That said, you should be aware of a few potential issues before you get your dentures, such as the different types of dentures, how to ensure you choose the right dentures/dentist, and how to avoid problems later.
There are two basic types of full dentures: fixed and removable.
Removable full dentures are held in place by suction, dental adhesive, or a combination of the two. Wearers’ remove them once or twice a day to clean them, and typically do not wear their dentures at night.
Removable dentures are the most affordable tooth replacement option, although wearers should expect reoccurring costs over the years. This is because our mouth structures changes over time, and dentures will usually need to be refitted – or replaced – in response to these changes. Many people find that they need adjustments most often in the first year of wearing dentures, and then every 3-5 years after that. But this varies depending on your dental condition, age, and other issues – you may need less frequent, or more, adjustments – in order for your dentures to fit properly. Badly fitting dentures can cause pain, infection, and bone loss in the supporting oral tissues so it’s important that your dentures fit correctly and are comfortable.
Many dentists will include adjustments performed in the first few months after you first get you dentures - in the price of your denture treatment plan. This may include reshaping the dentures for comfort/appearance, and/or relining them for a snugger fit. Your dentist and his staff should be very available to you to answer questions and address concerns following your initial treatment.
Your other option are fixed dentures. These are dentures that are held in place by four to six dental implants - tiny screw-like posts of titanium metal, which are placed into the jawbone in a minor surgical procedure. Over time the metal implants fuse with the natural bone, and provide a strong foundation for your dentures to adhere to. This type of denture tends to feel more stable than removable dentures, and the adjustment period is shorter and easier. You won’t need to remove fixed dentures at night or to clean them, and the metal implants stimulate the bone tissue, reducing potential bone loss.
Fixed dentures are initially more expensive than removable ones, but over time they may cost less as there is often less need to adjust this type of denture for fit and comfort. But the implants usually require a few months to heal, and you may require a set of temporary replacement teeth during this period. Additionally, not everyone has enough strong bone to support implants; bone grafts may be required to address this issue. In some cases, health issues or bone loss may preclude getting implants.
Whether you are getting removable or fixed dentures, you will likely have to have remaining permanent teeth removed from the upper or lower dental arch (or both, if you are getting a full set of dentures). After the extractions, your gums will heal and slightly change shape. During this period, which typically lasts several months, you cannot be fitted for permanent dentures – it would be a waste of your time and money.
You can go without teeth during this time, but it’s far more likely that you will choose to get immediate dentures, which you will wear right after tooth extraction is complete, and during following months while your gums heal and assume their new shape. You can get the dentures relined them to fit your mouth's new shape, or get a new pair of dentures in a year or so, depending on how comfortable you are with your immediate dentures, and how well they fit after your mouth is fully healed.
Generally, you’ll be able to continue on with your immediate dentures after you’ve had them relined – potentially you may need more than one reline to get the fit right. Or you may choose to get a new, permanent set. Permanent dentures tend to be a bit less bulky than immediates, the “teeth” may be more defined and sharper than the ones on your temporary set, and they may look even more natural than your immediates. It’s really up to you and your dentist to decide what’s best. If you do opt to get a new set, your immediate dentures will still serve you well as a back-up pair, should you ever break your permanent dentures.
A permanent, full upper denture costs around $1600.00, although prices vary depending on your location. If you need upper and lower dentures, it will probably cost around $3000. Immediate dentures may be slightly less, around $1400 for an upper. Factor in that you will need to pay for any extractions you may need, as well as x-rays and checkups.
In general, you do get what you pay for when you purchase dentures. You may be able to find dentures for hundreds less than $1600, but significantly less-expensive dentures are likely to be one-size-fits-all (which often means “one-size-fits-none”), use cheaper materials, and are more likely to crack or break. If you are considering inexpensive dentures, check the reviews online for the dental practice that is offering the discount. There are a lot of horror stories on consumer complaint boards regarding inexpensive dentures. And please don’t even consider purchasing “instant” or “snap on” teeth. These super-cheap fake teeth look and feel nothing like natural teeth (or properly fitted dentures), and they don’t function like them either.
Medicare does not cover routine dental care, such as cleanings or check-ups, and will not cover the cost of dentures. Some Medicare Advantage plans do offer dental benefits, including denture coverage, you need to check plan details to confirm coverage.
Medicaid’s dental coverage varies by state, but typically does not cover dentures.
Dental insurance may cover dentures, but it is unlikely to pay to replace teeth that were missing or fragile prior to your purchase of the insurance plan. You will also have to wait, often up to a year, for denture coverage. And since most dental insurance plans limit annual coverage to $1,000-$1,500, the cost of dentures is likely to exceed your dental insurance budget for the year.
Dental savings plans typically provide discounts of 40-60% on dentures as well as other senior dental care procedures, and there are no restrictions on pre-existing conditions, no waiting periods for procedures once the plan is activated (within 72 hours or less for most plans) and no annual spending caps.
To find the dental savings plan that fits your dental care needs and budget, search for a plans by dentist, by savings, or by procedure. The site’s search tools make it easy to compare plans and find the one that offers the best savings on dentures along with other restorative dental treatments that will help you reclaim a healthy, beautiful smile.
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