Symptoms of ill-fitting dentures and what to do about it

Symptoms of ill-fitting dentures

How do you know if it’s the fit of your denture that is causing you grief? You might have had the denture for years with no problems and find it hard to believe that now, after years of no-hassle wear, it could be why you are suffering discomfort. In this article we examine what signs to look for, to determine if it’s an ill-fitting denture that is causing your pain and what action you need to take to correct the situation. An ill-fitting denture can be the result of poor design or because of changing conditions in your mouth, so old denture or new, poor fit doesn’t discriminate. We also look at the long-term effects of an ill-fitting denture and the consequences of ignoring the symptoms.

What symptoms do I look for?

Discomfort or pain has a way of focusing our attention, especially if it involves being able to take pleasure in our food. The first sign your denture no longer fits properly may come when you discover it hurts to chew. You may feel the denture shift slightly in your mouth as you eat, and ouch! The denture lands in a different spot under pressure of the chewing action - and it hurts! If you ignore it and do nothing, you notice your gums becoming inflamed with sore spots appearing. A quick check in the mirror reveals small blister-like ulceration, accompanied by a bad taste in your mouth and perhaps even bleeding. If you ignore this symptom and soldier on, the ache in your gums becomes constant. Infection is a possibility. As the effects escalate, you find not only is it difficult to eat, but speaking and perhaps even swallowingi are also awkward. If your denture is old, you may wonder why this is happening now when there’ve been no problems in the past. If your denture is new, you might question its suitability for you, or even doubt the competence of your oral health provider.

Symptoms: a short list

  • Soreness or pain
  • Difficulty chewing, speaking
  • Inflammation of your gums
  • Dentures slip or feel less secure
  • Bleeding
  • Gum ulceration
  • Bad breath or bad taste in your mouth
  • Using more denture adhesive than usual

What causes an ill-fitting denture?

Pre-existing dentures

Dentures are an excellent replacement for lost natural teeth, but even at their best they’re not the same. The dynamic nature of your oral landscape means it changes with age and general health, factors which affect your dentures. Gum tissues shrink, bone loss occurs. If it’s a partial denture you have, then loss of more of your natural teeth or additional dental work will also affect the fit. You may notice you’re using more adhesive than usual to keep your denture in place or it feels loose in your mouth. This can be a sign of poor fit.

New dentures

It is normal and expected for a new denture to feel strange in your mouth until you become accustomed to it. It may feel awkward and rub your gums causing sore spots, especially if your mouth is healing after extractions. These symptoms can be similar to those experienced with a poorly fitting denture and difficult to distinguish from ill fit. However, new denture wearers are generally under the care of an oral health provider during this settling in period. You can raise any concerns you have with them, and they will quickly determine and address whether poor fit or a normal settling in phase is the cause.

Difference between upper and lower denture fit

It is important to understand there is a difference between upper and lower denture stability. Full upper dentures rely on suction to help them keep stable, whereas a full bottom denture must allow space for the tongue. Your denture will sit more securely if you have a lower jaw ridge with good bone height, although this may not be present if you have been without teeth for some time. Otherwise, your denture must rely on facial muscles to keep them in place. Acquiring the kind of facial muscle control needed to achieve this doesn’t happen overnight and differs between individuals. However, eventually practise, while perhaps not making perfect, will improve your ability to hold your lower denture in place.

How to find out what the problem is

So, having read the symptoms above, and assuming you have decided that your discomfort is most likely an ill-fitting denture, how do you find out for sure? If you have a new denture and are already under the care of an oral health provider, then this should be your first port of call. An oral examination will reveal the cause of your discomfort and pain, and be rectified. If your denture is pre-existing, a visit to your favoured denture clinic preferably the one who made your denture, will confirm, or dispel your fears. You can also take advantage of free, no-obligation consultations some denture clinics offer to seek advice.

Long term effects of ill-fitting dentures

Is it worth putting off getting ill-fitting dentures fixed? The following information may make you think twice. Aside from the pain and discomfort, and the decreased pleasure in eating and the self-assurance that smiling and talking confidently brings, loose or ill-fitting dentures cause gaps between your denture and gums. This allows food particles, bacteria, and fungi to accumulate in your mouth with a potential to harbour oral infections causing red and inflamed and even bleeding gums made more painful by dentures pressing on them. Unwillingness to eat because of painful dentures can compromise your nutritional intake leaving you hungry and sad, with constant pain making you irritable. In addition, according to a meta-studyii investigating the links between dentures and cancer, ill-fitting dentures increase your risk of developing cancer. However, regular oral health checks and greater patient awareness of good maintenance regimes can help mitigate this possibility.

What to do about ill-fitting dentures

The fact that you are here on this page and you’re reading this article suggests you are already proactive about finding a solution. Firstly, seek advice from your consulting oral health practitioner if you already have one. If not, then seek the advice of a dental prosthetist whose professional expertise is dentures and making them fit well. Often, they will address your problem in a laboratory onsite, which means less waiting time for you because you are dealing directly with the manufacturer. Secondly, dental prosthetists are presented with this kind of issue all the time. Because they create the dentures, dental prosthetists have professional insight into the dynamics of designing, manufacturing, and fitting dentures, to avoid or fix problems like ill-fitting dentures.

A final word on solving ill-fitting denture problems

Knowing what symptoms may indicate an ill-fitting denture and what to do about it can be empowering. If a reduced quality of life isn’t enough to send you looking for solutions, then the pain of suffering with dentures that are loose or uncomfortable will. Having some idea whether your dentures are ill-fitting because of age, neglect, changing oral landscape or, conversely, temporarily uncomfortable because they are new and you are still adjusting, will determine your course of action. The main thing to remember is doing nothing is not a sensible option because ill-fitting dentures won’t fix themselves. But there is a solution, and it is a comfortable one.

i Monaco, A., Cattaneo, R., Masci, C., Spadaro, A. and Marzo, G. (2012), Effect of ill-fitting dentures on the swallowing duration in patients using polygraphy. Gerodontology, 29: e637-e644.
ii Manoharan S, Nagaraja V, Eslick GD. Ill-fitting dentures and oral cancer: a meta-analysis. Oral Oncol. 2014 Nov;50(11):1058-61. doi: 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2014.08.002. Epub 2014 Aug 26. PMID: 25169920.

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