How long do complete (full) dentures last? -
In terms of cost, complete dentures are a big-ticket item. And as such you might wonder how long this type of appliance can be expected to last.
To answer this question, we've set this page up as follows:
- The first half of this page explains general reasons why full dentures tend to fail or require replacement.
- The lower half cites statistics and estimates from dental literature that have reported on the subject of denture failure rates and expected life span.
Defining what a "complete" denture is.
Just to make sure there's no confusion about the type of dental prosthesis discussed on this page, a "complete" or "full" denture is a dental appliance that replaces all of a patient's teeth on one "arch" (upper or lower jaw).
A denture consists of a plastic base that simulates gum tissue. Embedded in this base are artificial teeth.
- Nowadays plastic teeth are the type most commonly used. In decades past, porcelain ones were sometimes used instead.
- Some aspects of a complete denture's base may be made out of metal. This option might be chosen so to make the appliance more fracture resistant or to allow the thickness of its base to be thinner.
Factors affecting full denture longevity.
a) Denture strength.
The strength of the materials from which a denture is made will affect how long it will last. Repairing appliance damage (such as denture base fracture or reattaching lost teeth) is frequently possible and doing so is commonplace.
As a shortcoming however, repairs typically don't offer the same level of strength as a prosthesis' original materials. So in the case where the needed repair is extensive or has previously failed, appliance replacement or at least rebasing it may offer the best (most predictable, lasting) solution.
b) Denture wear.
The durability of the materials from which a denture is made will also affect its longevity. And as would be expected, plastics (teeth, denture base materials) will tend to wear over time.
Replacement or repair of the worn aspects of an appliance may be possible. But denture wear frequently coincides with changes involving the patient's jaws and jaw joints.
Electing to replace the entire prosthesis often allows the dentist the latitude they need to create an outcome that restores, corrects or adapts to the patient's changed/current situation.
c) Denture fit.
The fit of the "tissue side" of a denture's base over the jawbone ridge on which it rests is an important factor in appliance stability, retention, comfort and function. And this characteristically does change over time, and therefore plays a role in limiting an appliance's longevity.
- Performing a reline (replacing the plastic that directly rests on gum tissue) can renew this fit and thus extend the life span of a prosthesis.
- If the denture has already provided extensive service, replacing it altogether may make the better plan.
Statistics about how long complete dentures can last.
Below are findings and estimates from dental research about expected denture service and longevity.
How long can full dentures last?
- A dental literature review by Schwass (2013) states that it's "generally accepted" that complete dentures can last between 5 and 10 years. However, it also reports that many patients wear their appliances for far longer.
- Murtomaa (1992) polled 328 denture wearers. 45% of the upper and 40% of the lower appliances being worn by this group were over 10 years old.
Primary reasons for complete/full denture failure.
a) Damage / Breakage
- The most frequently occurring types of denture damage are tooth loss (33% of all repairs for full and partial appliances combined) and denture base fracture (29% of all laboratory repairs involved cracked or broken full upper dentures) (Darbar 1994).
- Vallittu (1993) found that roughly half of all denture repairs performed by dental laboratories involved complete upper dentures.
- Shakya (2015) reported that complete upper dentures tend to fracture twice as often as lower ones. The primary causes either being plastic fatigue (stress created from use) or impact (dropping).
How long do denture repairs last?
- The repair of a significant failure (such as a large crack or a denture breaking into two) can't be expected to restore an appliance to its original strength. Re-fracture frequently occurs where the repair and original plastics join (ElHadiry 2010).
In this type of situation a dentist may advise that the appliance needs to be rebased or else worn as a transitional prosthesis until a replacement can be made.
- Needed minor repairs (such as reattaching a tooth that has debonded) can be expected to be serviceable for an extended period of time.
Some of the difficulties associated with this type of repair can be that the color of the new plastic used for the mend may not perfectly match that of the original, or may pick up staining over time. Or, if a tooth has been lost, its replacement may not be a perfect color match.
b) General wear and tear.
It's common that due to years of use that a denture will have finally reached a point where it has deteriorated enough that it's no longer functionally or esthetically acceptable. This deterioration might include tooth wear or denture base wear, deterioration or staining.
While we don't have any specific statistics to share as to how long this might take, our Schwass (2013) reference mentioned above seems to put the average life span of a denture on the order of 5 to 10 years.
(It would be our conjecture that during this time frame denture relines would be required to maintain the proper fit of the appliance, see next section.)
c) Natural jawbone changes.
Another scenario could be one where through normal natural processes the patient's jawbone (shape, size) has changed enough that the fit and dimensions of its denture are no longer suitable.
This is an expected change, although the rate at which it occurs will vary with each patient.
- It may take place in just a few or several months if teeth have recently been extracted.
- In cases where the patient's teeth were extracted several years ago, a few years may elapse before substantial changes have occurred.
In either case, a reline or rebase procedure may be able to restore the denture to acceptable standards.
Extending the life span of a denture via relining or rebasing.
a) Denture relining.
Relining is the process that a dentist uses to resurface the "tissue side" (inside) of ill-fitting dentures. It can be used as a way of prolonging the life span of an appliance that is otherwise in acceptable condition.
There are two methods that can be used to reline a denture.
- Chairside relines - With this technique the dentist performs all of the resurfacing work, start to finish, during their patient's scheduled appointment.
- Laboratory relines - This is a two appointment process (with both possibly occurring during the same day) where an impression is taken in the patient's denture, which is then sent to a dental laboratory where it is resurfaced.
How long can a reline last?
a) Laboratory procedures.
The type of plastic placed using a laboratory process is somewhat similar to the type used for initial denture construction. And as such it would be our conjecture that a laboratory reline should last for some years (in terms of resistance to deterioration, debonding from the denture, staining), although we couldn't find a reference to cite in regard to this matter.
b) Chairside procedures.
In comparison, the types of hard-setting plastics used with chairside processes are known to be less durable and stain resistant.
- Matsumura (2001) evaluated the performance of a chairside reline material and determined that 90% of cases in which it was used still rated "clinically ideal" at one year.
- Haywood (2003) compared the performance of 3 hard-setting chairside products at 3, 6 and 12 month intervals. At one-year evaluations (but not at previous 3 or 6 month checks), some dentures showed "severe loss of reline materials."
b) Denture rebasing.
A denture rebase is similar to a reline, with the exception that most or even all of the denture's base (the plastic part that simulates gum tissue) is replaced.
Rebasing as opposed to relining means that an appliance's effective life span can be extended via the correction of a much wider range of deficiencies. This includes fit, vertical dimension (height of the teeth of the denture), facial appearance (lip support) and denture strength (entirely replacing areas where the denture previously fractured).
We couldn't find a reference that gave an estimate about how long a denture rebase might last. But as mentioned above, this is a laboratory process and therefore the materials used should provide service fairly similar to the denture when new.
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