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Dentures at My Age?

Why I traded in my natural teeth before I hit 40.

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Jamie Chung/ Trunk Archive
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During what would be my last routine dental appointment, my dentist was finishing up my latest crown when she announced that in order to fix everything that was wrong with my teeth (not counting extensive periodontal work), it would cost around $35,000. I did not have $35,000. I was lucky to come up with the $800 for the crown. She warned that if I didn't get all my teeth fixed soon, I might find myself in dentures at a young age, which she made sound like an appalling fate.

Well, as far as I was concerned, getting the dentures actually sounded a lot better than spending my life and money in a dental chair, which I had already been doing. I probably tried harder in terms of dental care than most hygienists, yet I just couldn't keep my teeth healthy. I assume it's due to genetics, since both my parents had dentures by their late 30s. The pain, stress and cost of my constant dental work were getting to be too much. But I was only 37 years old. Did I really want to have full dentures so young?

I booked a consultation with a prosthodontist, fearing he might just send me back to my dentist based on my age, but he didn't. After he heard about my long struggle and had a tour of my horrid teeth, he agreed that I was a good candidate for dentures. Plus, the price of full-mouth extractions and complete dentures was only a fraction of the cost of trying to keep my natural teeth. If I remember correctly, it all came out to about $6,000.

I admit that I was terribly embarrassed about having full dentures at that age. I even told my coworkers that I was having another kind of surgery and took a lengthy period off from my job.

The first step was going to a prosthodontist to have my dentures made. Then it was time for the extraction of my remaining 26 teeth. When I woke up from the anesthetic, the pain was intense, despite repeated shots of some pretty strong painkillers. I expected that, but what was both excruciating and startling was that they put my dentures in immediately, right on top of my raw, stitched-up gums. Once home, I had to repeatedly remove them to clean the empty gaping maw that was now my mouth. It took a lot of painkillers and courage to force myself to do that little routine.

Once the pain and swelling went away, I found I had seemingly lost the ability to talk or eat. My tongue wasn't used to the dentures and fought against me for quite some time. I hadn't expected that. I also drooled like a fountain as the tissues of my mouth attempted to wash away the foreign objects that had been forced upon them.

Eventually, though, I learned to talk again (both with and without the dentures) as well as work back up to eating solids. Learning how to chew and swallow took time; it felt as if I had a baseball in my mouth.

Many trips to the prosthodontist followed, as he made a number of changes. Because your first set of dentures are molded while your teeth are in, they have to guess at what the shape of your mouth will be post-surgery. In my case, I hardly had a lower ridge on which to position the teeth. Plus, without teeth, you begin to experience bone loss, making the ridge even thinner. I don't know if this issue had to do with my age or just the makeup of my jaw, but it became quite a problem when my lowers wouldn't stay in long, even with a good thick layer of dental adhesive.

After a while, I ended up getting two implant posts to hold the lowers in. This involved more unpleasant surgery, but it was worth it to keep my teeth in my mouth. I also had to have a new complete set of dentures made within the first year because my mouth had changed so much after the extractions. I'm not sure how common this is, especially since my parents kept their original dentures their whole lives and didn't even need adhesive.

Since then, I've had the full set replaced a couple of times as my mouth (and even the look of my face) continued to change. It's also recommended that you replace dentures about every five years. Mine cost approximately $3,000 a set, which is nothing compared with what I would have paid trying to keep my natural teeth. And the best part? They look amazing and I never have to go to the regular dentist again. I just take my teeth out and clean them in every nook and cranny. No more trying to get dental floss around molars. If I chip one, there's no painful appointment to deal with; my doctor simply takes that set into his shop and pops in a new tooth.

I go in yearly to have my dentures professionally cleaned, and I see my oral surgeon to check on my implants and the health of my jaw bone. Again, easy and painless compared with what I used to endure for even a simple cleaning.

I'm still a little embarrassed at having dentures, even though I'm now 54. But I have to say, as difficult as they were initially, I absolutely love them now. I not only get compliments on them, but I've been told they look nothing like false teeth. My prosthodontist, who makes the dentures himself, is an artist. Together we pick the shape and color of each tooth, giving me a custom-designed smile.

So if you are in an unfortunate dental position, don't feel bad about exploring replacement teeth. You may not even need full dentures. With today's advanced dental technology, there are several options, depending on your situation, including multiple implants, single-tooth implants, partial dentures and more. It's possible to have a beautiful, healthy smile without major cost and pain.

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