Helping a partner on their denture journey
Recent posts on the Denture Support Australia Facebook page asked for advice on how they can help someone through the process of having teeth removed and a new denture fitted. We thought some information on the subject could be helpful. You may wish to support a partner, a friend or other loved one. So, let’s explore the ‘before’ ‘during’ and ‘after’ phases of getting a denture and how you can be an effective advocate.
Before the tooth extraction
There is more to consider than the mere mechanics
There is much preliminary work to do before your friend/partner gets their new dentures. Above all, is your understanding about the gravity of this change for your partner. A person’s teeth and smile are a large part of their identity. They’re a crucial factor in how they think of themselves. Imagine spending your life hiding behind your hand or avoiding smiling properly because you’re embarrassed about how you look. Some people do. And your partner might be one of them. So, listen attentively to their concerns. Practise empathy. Remind them of how good they will look and feel in the future.
On a more practical level, researching the options for them with a clear, objective mind, can help your partner have the least stressful experience. Arming them with information will boost their confidence and reduce their nerves. Showing them how others have managed the experience of getting dentures can be reassuring. Be informed and therefore, prepared for the challenges ahead. You can make the journey easier – for both of you!
Choosing the prosthetist right for your partner
If your partner doesn’t already have a good prosthetist, now is the time to get one. Join Facebook groups and ask others who have been through the same experience. There may be someone in your area who can tell you who is most expert. Look for reviews online. Having faith in your health professional is vital.
How does it all work?
At least two, and often more, dental health professionals, like prosthetists, dentists, oral surgeons and the like, will attend to your partner during the process of getting dentures. A prosthetist takes the impressions before your partner’s teeth are removed in preparation for making a customised denture. A dentist extracts the natural teeth in readiness for the denture, while it’s quite common to have an oral surgeon who will perform the extractions under anaesthetic if the situation is a little more complex.
Who does my partner see first?
It makes sense to begin with your chosen dental prosthetist. Unlike dentists, many denture clinics offer free, first consultations which is a help while you’re still in the fact-finding stage. The dental prosthetist will be looking after your partner’s denture once their teeth have been removed so building a good relationship with them is vital. They can explain what is needed and provide a treatment plan so you and your partner can think over what is ahead. Denture clinics liaise closely with dentists and oral surgeons in their area. They can advise you and your partner of the options available.
You may have already seen your dentist and been told it’s time for dentures. In this case, they will give you tooth reference numbers to take to your dental prosthetist for impressions to be made and a treatment plan devised. Your dentist can recommend a dental prosthetist with whom they work closely if you don’t have one already. You can also nominate your own preferred dental prosthetist if you so choose.
Remember, once your partner has dentures, the dental prosthetist will replace the dentist in terms of importance, especially if they are having full upper and lower dentures. That’s why it’s important to have someone you both can trust.
Helping your partner make choices
At some stage, your partner will visit the dentist or oral surgeon for a necessary talk about tooth extraction. It can be really helpful for them to have a second set of ears present when the procedures are explained. Attending the dental prosthetist’s appointment with your partner when it comes time to select dentures and talk about the process, is equally important.
Faced with the enormity of a change like the replacement of natural teeth with a denture, it’s not uncommon for the patient to be overwhelmed and find remembering the details a bit difficult. Both your dental prosthetist and the dentist or oral surgeon will give your partner written treatment plans, outlining appointments, what will be done and when it will be done.
Extract teeth and heal first, or have immediate dentures?
Remove the teeth and have the denture fitted three months after the mouth has healed? Or alternatively, have the dentist extract the teeth and an immediate denture ready to fit on the same day? Dental health professionals will offer the case for and against to guide you on this. Whichever option your partner chooses, whether immediate dentures, or dentures made and fitted after the healing has taken place, the dental prosthetist and dentist will liaise on your partner’s.
During: attending appointments
The next step, if immediate dentures have been chosen, is your partner attending the denture clinic to have impressions taken and choose the kind of denture which suits them best. If they have chosen to wait until the mouth has healed, this step will take place about three months after tooth extraction. Shorter wait times apply if only a small amount of teeth are extracted.
Helping with aesthetics
Help making these choices from someone close is invaluable. Because you know the patient better than the clinician, you can assist with aesthetic choices like tooth colour in the case of a full denture, for example. Or you may offer help choosing between standard, custom or premium denture types. Your dental prosthetist will happily show you actual samples. Ask to see a denture album if your prosthetist has one. Check out ‘before and after’ galleries on your denture clinic website with your partner to boost their confidence in the final result. They may also ask for your help with other choices like cost and value for money.
After the tooth extraction
Following written instructions, the dentist or oral surgeon supplies, on how to care for the mouth after having teeth removed, is essential for success. Assist your partner by ensuring you both read the instructions and follow them carefully. Prompting your partner about and reminding them to take medications are helpful measures. Neglecting hygiene can result in nasty odours and even worse, infection. Be mindful and tolerant should pain and discomfort make them grumpy.
If your partner has opted for waiting until the mouth has healed before fitting dentures, it’s likely they will be very self-conscious about the way they look. No amount of toothless humour is funny in this circumstance.
Tips for dealing with the challenges
Eating can be challenging until the mouth heals. If you are chief cook and bottle washer, try to make meals with this in mind. Soft, nutritious food like smoothies, for example, are best. Avoid anything too hot or too hard. It’s best not to drink from a straw but fluids can be taken freely about an hour and a half after the procedure.
The same advice also applies when immediate dentures have been fitted. While the dentures protect the gums and assist with reducing swelling and by promoting healing, any downward pressure will be uncomfortable if not painful, in those early days before the mouth heals.
We advise leaving the denture in place for 24 hours after the procedure. After that time your partner can remove the denture, rinse it off and gently rinse their mouth out with warm saltwater. (1 teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water). Immediately replace the denture and don’t remove it until bedtime. Hereafter, they should remove the denture at bedtime and leave it out while they sleep; this keeps mouth tissues healthy. Reassure your partner that swelling will subside over a 48-72 hour period and they will adjust to having something foreign in their mouths. See our immediate dentures post-op information page for more detailed instructions.
Knowing what is ‘normal’
It’s not uncommon to feel insecure about what might be perceived as an ‘enormous’ bulk of new dentures in the mouth. This and increased saliva is especially the case for the first few weeks. Everything is magnified when exacerbated by pain and the uncertainty of adapting to something new. Talking and eating can be difficult until your loved one adjusts. However, both practising both allows the facial and jaw muscles can relearn and adapt. One effective strategy is count down the 30 days it normally takes to become accustomed to the new denture by marking the days off on a calendar. (See our blog 'Will my dentures ever feel normal?' for further information)
Being nervous about the false teeth falling out is a common concern, so if your partner hesitates to talk much at first, or mumbles and slurs their words, be patient and encouraging.
As swelling subsides, the denture may need small adjustments. This is perfectly normal and to be expected. Don’t hesitate to contact the dental prosthetist who will be happy to make the adjustments. Encourage your partner to be proactive. Annual denture check-ups are vital for avoiding breakages, sore spots, and loose fit, as well as prolonging the life of their denture into the future.
A final word
The old proverb: ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is certainly true of getting a new denture. Full marks to you for trying to help your loved one. Just remember, things will get better. Every day that passes is another day closer to your loved one’s adjusting to and enjoying their new smile. Practising patience and empathy is the key. By all means, take on board estimated times for healing and becoming accustomed to new dentures. But realise that everyone is different and will, therefore, respond and heal differently. However, know that if things are not progressing as you feel they should, you can and should encourage your partner to seek help. Your prosthetist has their wellbeing and ultimate satisfaction at heart.