Painful dentures: the why, what, where and how
If you have suffered with denture pain, you know there is nothing quite so disruptive to your life. Painful dentures affect your eating, sleeping, socialising and everyday activities. In this article we attempt to break down for you the what, the why, and where of denture pain and how you might change things for the better.
It's important to understand there is a difference in the pain attributable to new dentures, and the pain seasoned denture wearers might experience. It’s also useful to know that sometimes the problem is not with your dentures at all, but with underlying conditions or practices.
Pain from new dentures
New denture wearers often experience pain or discomfort when they first get dentures. This is the case in varying degrees for almost every new denture wearer as they become accustomed to having something foreign in their mouths. Mouth tissues and gums are sensitive, particularly after the trauma of having teeth removed. But in most cases, oral tissue heals quickly1 , depending on factors like age and health status. So, with a little patience, perseverance, good advice and support, people usually adapt to new dentures given time.
Where your denture hurts: symptoms as a clue to your denture pain
Determining whether your pain is related to getting new dentures, or if your existing dentures are the cause of your pain, will help you understand what to expect and how you can best resolve the issue.
If you have recently had teeth extracted and a new denture inserted, it is likely your denture pain will be temporary. Given time for healing and good hygiene practice, your pain will eventually resolve. The inflammation and swelling in the gums will abate and having your dentures in place will feel more like a normal state for you. You will soon adjust to speaking and eating with the new device in your mouth. If the pain with new dentures persists, a visit to your prosthetist for adjustment and advice will resolve the issue.
When denture pain takes longer to resolve
Of course, people heal at different rates. If you have chronic health problems like diabetes, or if you are of an advanced age, then you can expect the healing process to be a little slower. Individual pain threshold is also a factor. For those with low pain thresholds, the resolution of pain issues can seem to take longer.
Pain with existing dentures
However, if you are a long-term denture wearer and you develop mouth pain, other causes may be in play. Pain should never be ignored. It is a natural warning system alerting us that all is not well. In this case consulting your dental health professional is advised.
Causes of denture pain
Poor dental hygiene is a common cause of mouth issues which cause pain. Good dental hygiene should be at the top of your priority list in a preventative approach to pain. Taking care of your mouth and denture will reduce the risk of oral conditions like dental stomatitis2, a common type of fungal infection. In the presence of stomatitis, oral tissues become inflamed, irritated, and swollen. Thrush may be evident, appearing as white patches inside the mouth. People who smoke, drink alcohol, take certain medications like broad spectrum antibiotics, or have a high sugar diet, low in nutrition are more susceptible to dental stomatitis.
Loose or ill-fitting dentures can create undue pressure or rubbing on sensitive oral tissues, causing sore spots and the potential for bacteria to enter. Checking with your dental prosthetist will determine if it is time for a denture reline to restore fit and comfort, or a new denture.
Tooth extractions can result in your denture no longer fitting snugly. Rubbing and sore spots may develop, slowing the healing process and causing pain and a potential entry point for infection as a result.
Bone spurs or fragments remaining after having teeth removed are also a related cause of denture sore spots and oral pain. This situation can occur after multiple tooth extractions but is easily addressed by revisiting your dental health professional.
A build-up of plaque can harbour harmful bacteria or yeast infections. A failure to clean your mouth and denture thoroughly and often, is another opportunity for undesirable bacteria or fungi to thrive in your mouth. Denture adhesives can be difficult to remove, however failure to do so leaves you open to an accumulation of harmful bacteria.
Leaving your denture in for long periods of time, like overnight for example, can trigger pain in some situations. The constant pressure of dentures on gums and oral tissues inhibits blood flow, and without exposure to the natural sanitising effects of saliva3 and air, other problems can arise.
Smoking and alcohol consumption can negatively impact on your general health and therefore, your oral health. Smoking reduces salivary flow leading to oral disorders.4
Medications, some cancer treatments, and broad-spectrum antibiotics suppress the immune response leaving you vulnerablef to oral infections.
A poor diet high in sugar can be a contributing factor to general health which may be reflected in compromised oral health and subsequent pain.
Allergic reactions to oral products like denture cleaners or adhesives which may cause irritation and discomfort.
Underlying disease or associated medications can make you more vulnerable to infection, poor ability to heal, and therefore denture pain.
Multiple factor mouth pain
Seldom is denture pain a single cause occurrence. As the preceding paragraphs demonstrate, one thing can lead to another having a ‘knock-on effect’. For example: tooth extraction may lead to ill-fitting denture which leads to sore spots, and then possible infection. It is therefore crucial to consult with your oral health provider who will assist in sorting out the cause of your pain and how to resolve it.
Preventing denture pain before it begins
The old adage: ‘prevention is better than cure’ couldn’t be truer when it comes to denture pain. In addition to the measures discussed above, one very important thing you can do to prevent denture pain is making annual denture health checks a habit. During your annual denture check, your prosthetist examines your denture for surface damage or wear and tear. Small fissures in your denture can accumulate harmful bacteria and cause problems in the future. Crucially, your prosthetist will also test how well your denture fits. Oral tissues are dynamic, constantly changing with age and in response to changes in your health effecting how well your denture fits. A denture that is loose and rocks in your mouth will cause pressure spots and discomfort when eating. Early intervention can avoid problems poor fitting dentures cause.
How to fix denture pain?
Beyond the preventative measures for dealing with denture pain discussed above, here are some things you can do to alleviate your pain until you can have it attended to by your oral health professional.
Visit your prosthetist promptly
Your prosthetist is the best person to determine the cause of your denture pain. Sometimes all it takes to alleviate the pain is a small adjustment to your denture. Attending to the issue promptly will avoid the possibility of developing damaged or abraded tissue and possible infection if the problem is left to escalate. Regular denture checks can help avoid developing pain in the first place.
A few teaspoons of table salt stirred into lukewarm water then swished around your mouth several times a day can do wonders for mouth pain. The salt acts as a powerful antiseptic and when used in conjunction with resting your mouth and gums by leaving your dentures out, can promote prompt healing5.
Clove oil is a natural pain reliever. Rubbing a little on tender gums gives temporary relief.
Baby teething gels6 have gained some favour with denture wearers as a temporary stop gap measure for mouth pain.
What you can do to minimise your mouth pain
Modifying your diet by incorporating soft foods will assist healing and give comfort. Avoiding chewy or hard foods or any friction on your gums will not only provide relief but assist the healing process.
Resting your mouth and gums by leaving your dentures out will give relief and also give your mouth a chance to recover.
Over the counter pain relief is another temporary measure for dealing with denture pain while waiting for healing to take place or until professional advice can be sought.
The mental cost of denture pain
Not to be underestimated, is the negative impact constant oral pain has on your mental health, self-esteem and ability to function. So, the moral here is ‘prevention is better than cure’ and early intervention is preferable to waiting and hoping for the issue to go away.
Your prosthetist is on hand to help you find the cause of your pain and offer appropriate solutions and support.
Consequences of denture pain
We all know how debilitating any kind of pain can be, robbing you of life enjoyment. Prolonged or unaddressed pain can also result in the cause of your pain escalating from a small problem into a bigger problem. In addition, there is a financial aspect should that happen. Minor causes of denture pain are likely to be less expensive to resolve than more complex ones, which may escalate when initial problems are left unaddressed.
Denture pain is a reality at some time in the life of denture wearers. Adjustment to new dentures, changes in health and circumstances, poor hygiene practices and lack of maintenance are among the reasons for denture pain. But there are preventative measures you can adopt to avoid such pain. Should you experience denture pain, be reassured there is help on hand to minimise its affect.
1 Brand HS, Veerman EC. Saliva and wound healing. Chin J Dent Res. 2013;16(1):7-12. PMID: 23878824.
2 Gendreau L, Loewy ZG. Epidemiology and etiology of denture stomatitis. J Prosthodont. 2011 Jun;20(4):251-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-849X.2011.00698.x. Epub 2011 Apr 4. PMID: 21463383.
3 Dodds MW, Johnson DA, Yeh CK. Health benefits of saliva: a review. J Dent. 2005 Mar;33(3):223-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jdent.2004.10.009. Epub 2004 Dec 19. PMID: 15725522.
4 Rad, M., Kakoie, S., Niliye Brojeni, F., & Pourdamghan, N. (2010). Effect of Long-term Smoking on Whole-mouth Salivary Flow Rate and Oral Health. Journal of dental research, dental clinics, dental prospects, 4(4), 110–114. https://doi.org/10.5681/joddd.2010.028
5 Huynh NC, Everts V, Leethanakul C, Pavasant P, Ampornaramveth RS. Rinsing with Saline Promotes Human Gingival Fibroblast Wound Healing In Vitro. PLoS One. 2016 Jul 21;11(7):e0159843. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0159843. PMID: 27441729; PMCID: PMC4956236.
6 Hersh, E. V., Ciancio, S. G., Kuperstein, A. S., Stoopler, E. T., Moore, P. A., Boynes, S. G., Levine, S. C., Casamassimo, P., Leyva, R., Mathew, T., Shibly, O., Creighton, P., Jeffers, G. E., Corby, P. M., Turetzky, S. N., Papas, A., Wallen, J., Idzik-Starr, C., & Gordon, S. M. (2013). An evaluation of 10 percent and 20 percent benzocaine gels in patients with acute toothaches: efficacy, tolerability and compliance with label dose administration directions. Journal of the American Dental Association (1939), 144(5), 517–526. https://doi.org/10.14219/jada.archive.2013.0154
7 Brand HS, Veerman EC. Saliva and wound healing. Chin J Dent Res. 2013;16(1):7-12. PMID: 23878824.
Disclaimer – Always consult your oral health professional for expert advice about your unique personal situation. The information given here is of a general nature and for the purpose of education only. It is not meant to replace the advice of your oral health specialist
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