Dentures: The Good, the Bad, and the Alternatives

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Dentures have been a key part of dentistry since early human history. Now at their most comfortable, accessible and advanced, removable false teeth don’t enjoy the kind of popularity they once did. At one point the most popular treatment for missing of nonfunctional teeth, dentures are now just one of many options your dentist has for restoring your smile.

We spoke with cosmetic dentists to learn why false teeth have fallen out of favor, what they are like now and when they might still be the best option.

Are Dentures Still Popular?

Based on 2020 data from the U.S. Census and Simmons National Consumer Survey, about 40.9 million Americans have dentures of some kind. That’s about 12% of the total population. An increasingly aging population is one big reason behind the high number of people with false teeth.

Tooth loss is an incredibly common problem, particularly among the elderly. According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 adults 65+ have lost all of their teeth. Despite the clear need for false teeth and their continued prevalence, dentures aren’t really that popular an option with many dentists.

According to Houston, TX cosmetic dentist Guy M Lewis, DDS, traditional, removable teeth are usually a last choice. “Dentures are a last resort in dentistry,” Dr. Lewis explains. “Implant dentures would be recommended before traditional dentures, as well.”

The shift away from removable teeth is also a side effect of a good thing: our dental health is steadily improving.

Huntsville, AL cosmetic dentist Sonya L Wintzell, DMD explains that tooth loss used to be a lot more common. “Due to better access to care and more widespread use of fluoride, total tooth loss and the need for dentures has declined,” Dr. Wintzell explains.

What Dentists Prefer

If dentists are moving away from removable false teeth, what is replacing them?

According to Los Altos, CA Cosmetic dentist Joseph Field, DDS , most patients want something that is fixed in their mouth. “These days most patients elect to use implants to either create a bridge or use the implants to help retain the denture,” Dr. Field says. “The impact of using implants over a denture is significant.”

The key difference between traditional dentures and dental implants is that you don’t have to take implants out and put them in water at night. This is done with traditional false teeth for sanitation and to keep them from drying out and cracking. Even the custom shape of false teeth can become warped if left out overnight.

“The quality-of-life improvements of having teeth that are fixed rather than removable are astronomical,” Dr. Field explains. “I firmly believe that people shouldn’t have to put their teeth in a glass of water at night anymore. Implants really are a game changer.”

According to Dr. Wintzell, implant dentures have risen in popularity recently as well. “Gaining in popularity between dentists and patients are implant retained dentures,” Dr. Wintzell explains. “The patient satisfaction with these is much higher due to the stability and more natural chewing efficiency.”

Having to take out false teeth at night isn’t the only reason why some patients might not do well with traditional false teeth. “Dentures have a lot of issues from discomfort, fit issues, changing the taste of food and reduced chewing force,” Dr. Field explains.

Why Are Dentures Still Common?

We know that millions of Americans currently have some kind of dentures. They were even once a popular choice among Hollywood stars to achieve perfect teeth. You might remember that even Ben Affleck once had a full set of removable false teeth. But just like Affleck eventually opted to get dental implants and leave removable false teeth behind, traditional dentures are slowly losing popularity.

“Dentures have been used in dentistry for hundreds of years,” Dr. Field explains. “George Washington is known for having dentures and the actual false teeth he used are still on display at his museum. They are still commonly used these days, but less and less so.”

One key reason removable false teeth are still used is just a matter of cost. “Traditional dentures cost much less than implants,” Dr. Lewis explains. “That’s often why some patients choose traditional dentures over implant fixed dentures.”

There are other times when traditional false teeth are actually the best option for the patient.

“Other options such as bridgework and implants require sound, healthy teeth as anchors and strong bone for support,” Dr. Wintzell explains. “If these things are missing, then dentures may be the only option available for the patient suffering from tooth loss.”

Similarly, if a patient is not a good candidate for surgery due to health issues, traditional false teeth may be the best option for them. “In cases where patients have significant health issues, dentures may be the only option,” Dr. Field says.

The good news is that false teeth have improved a lot from Washington’s time. “With newer technology in our labs digitally printed dentures not only look beautiful but can have a more intimate fit for the patient,” Dr. Wintzel says.

There’s even a cosmetic benefit provided by more traditional false teeth. “There is also a cosmetic benefit to those that have lost a lot of collagen in the face,” Dr. Wintzell explains. “The bulk of the denture in the mouth can give the cheeks and lips a little more volume and support.”

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