Proper hygiene for denture wearers involves adjusting to a brand-new routine ‘ all part of staying healthy while you age

For as long as he can remember, Bruce Richardson has faithfully followed the same oral hygiene regimen he learned as a young boy: floss, brush with a half inch squirt of toothpaste, then rinse with mouthwash. But recently he learned that he’s been doing it all wrong.

He’s had partial dentures for a while, but having lost several lower teeth a few months ago because of tooth decay, he’s been fitted with full dentures. And only now has Mr. Richardson realized that he hasn’t been caring for his dentures properly.

‘I was surprised when my dentist told me not to use toothpaste to clean my dentures, recalls Mr. Richardson, a retired car assembly worker who lives in Mississauga. ‘I figured that if it was good enough for my natural teeth, then it should be also good enough for my new full set of pearly whites.’

Mr. Richardson isn’t the only one with the wrong idea about denture care. A recent survey of baby boomers by the research firm Leger Marketing found two out of five Canadians aged 45 and older didn’t know dentures required a change in dental hygiene routines. In fact, one in four Canadians mistakenly thought the best way to clean dentures is to brush them with toothpaste.

The same survey found that nearly one in 10 Canadians aged 45 and older think getting dentures means not having to worry as much about oral health and hygiene; after all, dentures aren’t really teeth and won’t be vulnerable to cavities.

Dr. Carol Waldman, a North York dentist, says it’s time Canadian gained a better understanding of denture care ‘ even if they’ve still got a mouth full of natural teeth.

‘Most people don’t concern themselves about denture care because they think they won’t need dentures until they are much older, she says, ‘But actually, the average age of getting denture in Canada is 56 years old.’

Dentures are more prevalent in Canada than people think. More than 5.6 million Canadians ‘ or about 17 percent of the population ‘ wear dentures today. And it is estimated that one in four Canadians will need either partial or full dentures at some point in their life.

Dr. Waldman says dentures that are not cleaned properly will get a build-up of calculus or hardened plaque. This can cause dentures to fit poorly or lead to ulcers in the mouth tissue.

‘Probably the most common side effect would be that our dentures won’t look nice and they’ll have a bad odour, says Dr. Waldman.

Fresh breath, sparkly whites and nice smile are what many boomers rank as some of the most important attributes of dental health and hygiene as they age.

‘I always associated getting dentures with being over the hill, but I got my first set of partials when I was only 36,’ says Mr. Richardson. ‘I guess I was cursed with what seems to be some back dental genes. I have to say that I have a better and healthier smile now with full dentures than I ever did before.’

But proper denture care isn’t merely about keeping the mouth and teeth clean; it’s also about staying healthy as you age. Numerous studies have shown links between poor oral health and conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and respiratory infections.

So what do people need to know about caring for dentures’ Dr. Waldman sums up the answer in one word: SNAP.

‘It’s simple acronym we teach our patients with dentures,’ she says. ‘Every letter in SNAP stands for a simple and easy-to-do step in a good denture care routine.’

Dr. Waldman explains the four components of the SNAP regime:

Soak in a special cleaner solution.

Dentures should be soaked daily in a solution such as Polident Daily Care, which is designed for just this purpose, says Dr. Waldman. Ideally, the dentures should also be soaked overnight. ‘In addition to eliminating bacteria from dentures, this also gives the tissue in the mouth a chance to breathe and relax,’ she says. But she understands that some denture wearers ‘ especially those with partners ‘ may initially feel shy about taking off their teeth at bedtime. For this group, she recommends using a quick clean formulation. Polident, for instance, has a 5-Mintue Anti-Bacterial Denture Cleanser.

New routine in no time.

Unlike teeth, which have a hard layer of enamel, dentures are often made of acrylic, which is softer and more porous. The abrasive ingredients in toothpaste can cause microscratches on the surface of dentures and create hotspots where bacteria can colonize. Scratches can make it easier for stains to build up, making the dentures look prematurely aged. Instead of brushing with toothpaste, denture wearers need to adopt a new routine that involves brushing gently with a soft toothbrush dipped in denture cleansing solution, soaking and brushing again to remove loosened particles. Odour-causing bacteria will also be eliminated and teeth will remain bright and white from regular soaking and brushing. ‘Then be sure to rinse the dentures thoroughly before putting them back on,’ says Dr. Waldman. ‘It’s really a simple routine that you’ll get used to in no time at all.’

Apply denture adhesive.

Putting just a small amount of denture adhesive along the edge of the dentures will help create a snug fit and keep them from clacking or popping out while you’re talking or eating. Denture wearers should make sure they clean off the adhesive each night ‘ using denture cleansing solution or paste- and replace with a fresh amount the next morning.

Patience please.

The first few weeks can be challenging for people still adjusting to their new smile, says Dr. Waldman. No matter how well they’re made and how good they look, dentures simply don’t feel like natural teeth and will take time to get used to. ‘But over time, people learn to adjust to their new smile and start enjoying the same things they used to enjoy before they got their dentures with the added benefit of a nice healthy looking smile,’ adds Dr. Waldman.

To ensure they continue to enjoy their new smiles for a long time, denture wearers need to embrace new oral hygiene habits and use products meant for dentures, not real teeth, says Dr. Waldman. And once they’ve learned these new habits, they need to stick with them for life.

After living with his full dentures now, Mr. Richardson says he’s finally adjusted to a new oral hygiene routine. But now he’s got three new items near this bathroom sink: a cleanser solution for soaking his dentures, a denture bath where his dentures get cleaned overnight, and a denture paste for brushing during the day.

‘Good oral hygiene has always been important to me and I’m going to make sure I take good care of them even if it means learning a new routine,’ he says. ‘Considering how easy it is to keep dentures clean by using the right products and following a few simple steps, there’s really no excuse not to do it.’

Dr. Carol Waldman is a practicing dentist in North York and a consultant for a GSK Consumer Health Canada denture education campaign.