Flu Season, Covid Worries Bring Dentures To A Worrisome Light

Posted on Nov 28, 2022 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

With the flu season now underway, 2022-23 seems especially concerning. The severity of flu for certain population segments is coupled with added concerns about increasing cases of the Covid virus. This has older adults, in particular, taking added precautions with mask wearing, limiting public outings, and ensuring vaccines are up to date.

When it comes to contributors to acquiring the flu, however, oral health is one that is often overlooked. Things like wearing dentures and having gum disease can create higher susceptibility to developing the flu (as well as other health problems) than many are aware.

Losing teeth in a lifetime happens. However, it is most prominent in adults as they age. Over a life span, teeth take an enormous brunt of wear and tear. More than 13% of adults between ages of 65 – 74 have lost all of their teeth with this percentage doubling after age 75. (https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/adult-oral-health/adult_older.htm)

Because older adults comprise a significant portion of the population, tooth loss is an especially troubling health concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the number of U.S. adults ages 65 and older is expected to reach nearly one-fourth of the overall population by the year 2060.

While replacing teeth can be done rather inexpensively through dentures, replacing the presence of teeth is very different from replacing their function. Dentures do very little to support the ability to bite confidently and chew thoroughly.  Here’s why…

When dentures are first made, they are conformed to fit the specific curves and arches of the existing bone ridge where teeth were once held. Without natural tooth roots in the jaw bone (where natural teeth were once supported), the bone begins to shrink, or “resorb.”

As resorption progresses, the arch where teeth were held begins to flatten. Thus, the foundation of the denture becomes less and less. This results in dentures that slip when eating or rub uncomfortable sore spots on tender gums. At first, more-frequent applications of denture pastes help somewhat. Eventually, they are of little help.

Dentures are hardly supportive to good digestion or nutritional health. Long-time denture wearers often alter their food choices to accommodate their less-than-dependable ability to chew. Fresh fruits and vegetables are bypassed for softer, cooked versions. Pasta is chosen over protein-rich meats. Grains and seeded foods conjure up the fear of seeds being caught under the denture, piercing into tender gums.

In addition to lacking to meet nutritional needs, there are concerns surrounding the cleanliness of dentures. Their gum-colored base is made up of a porous material, capable of housing millions of bacterial organisms. It’s no wonder bad breath is a common problem for denture wearers.

According to RDH magazine, “research has isolated Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus mutans, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, and hundreds of other garden-variety germs in acrylic dentures.” (https://www.rdhmag.com/patient-care/xerostomia/article/16407070/5-things-you-should-know-about-dentures)

Aging adults should also be aware that dentures can literally make you sick. In a study of 524 seniors (with an average age of 88), Japanese researchers noted higher incidences of pneumonia-associated events occurred among the 453 participants who were denture wearers. Nearly 41 percent wore their dentures during sleep and showed higher risk for pneumonia than those who removed their dentures at night. (https://www.rdhmag.com/infection-control/article/16404123/dentures-and-aspiration-pneumonia)

Certainly, having good oral health has proven to support good overall health. However, the appearance of a smile is also important. Because of the accelerated pace of bone loss from wearing dentures, facial changes begin to show through. At first, there may be deep wrinkles around the mouth. The corners of the mouth turn downward, even in a smile.

As bone loss continues, jowls form from the detachment of facial muscles. The chin takes on a pointed look and the mouth seems to collapse into the face. These changes tend to project a facial appearance that is far older than one’s actual years. For many people, looking old makes them feel old.

The choice of dentures, for most patients, is made because they provide the cheapest option to replace teeth. With all the arguments against dentures, we also understand the patient’s preference to save money. However, once you factor in all the health risks associated with dentures, dental implants stand out as being an important part of avoiding life-threatening illness. And, since dental implants are designed to last a lifetime, they are an excellent investment.

One way to enjoy the advantages of dental implants while keeping costs down is to secure a denture to dental implants. In this, only 6 or 8 dental implants are often sufficient to securely support a full denture.

This means that a “wobbly” or “slippery” denture can be firmly secured (even using the patient’s existing denture in some cases). This implant-supported denture halts resorption and restores biting and chewing strength.

The first step is to discuss options for tooth replacement that are appropriate for your specific needs and goals. As an Asheville periodontist, I know that many people are pleased to learn that dental implants are affordable through easy, monthly payment plans. Treatment can also include oral or I.V. sedation (twilight sleep). 

Support your overall health by ensuring your oral health is at its best. Begin by scheduling  a consultation appointment by calling 828-274-9440 or visit: https://www.biltmoreperiodontics.com/locationcontact-us/

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