Caregiving Challenges: Denture Care

Improper denture care can cause several problems for your loved one, including trouble eating and mouth injuries. Here's how to help.

Helpful - Caregiving

Helpful Highlights

  • Dentures are actually fragile prosthetics that should be handled with care.
  • Denture care is not always as easy as it looks on TV commercials.
  • Broken or ill-fitting dentures are a problem and can cause significant health issues.

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We all know, from personal experience and the now countless commercials on the matter, that good teeth and a nice smile contributes to how others see us, though it is more crucial to how we see ourselves. It affects how we feel, the way we look, and what we do. For many older adults, dentures serve that purpose.

Denture care is personal, private, and necessary. Your loved one may think your involvement will affect their dignity, independence, and invade their personal space.  Be patient, they need your help.  This personal story, provided by one of the nurses at Helpful, illustrates this point and may help you understand your loved one's perspective.

"My mom had dentures since she was 35.  She never referred to them as dentures, and no one saw her without her “teeth.” Ever! She refused to remove her dentures even when she went to the operating room for major heart surgery, telling the anesthesiologist he could remove them after she was asleep. After surgery, she was bed-bound in the cardiac ICU, intubated, and once awakened, frantically starting pointing to her mouth.  She wanted her teeth back in... Now!  Together, we timed the cleaning of her dentures very carefully so none of the hospital staff would ever see her without her teeth."

Your loved one may have the same concerns our nurse's mother.  Though you may have started to notice that they are not taking care of their dentures. Perhaps they can't due to arthritis, dementia, or another reason.  A kind, compassionate, and respectful approach will help you both get the job done.

Key Points

  • There is a top denture plate (upper denture) and a bottom denture plate (lower denture).
  • Placing dentures in cool water or a denture-soaking solution when not in use helps them retain their shape, pliability, and moisture.  Dentures will become dry, hardened and brittle, and possibly change shape without moisture care.
  • Dentures should never be placed in hot or boiling water, as it could cause them to warp.
  • Increasing the amount of denture adhesive used is not a remedy for ill-fitting dentures. They should be realigned or replaced to prevent oral sores and pain from developing.
  • Ill-fitting dentures can be identified by shifting, clicking, rattling, collecting food beneath them, or falling out.

Even though dentures are made form synthetic material, it’s still important to clean them regularly to maintain their look and feel, as well as overall oral health. Cleaning dentures involves more than brushing. Other steps are required to keep everything in good condition.

Step-by-Step denture care

Gather the following:

  • Cool or room temperature water
  • Soft cloth - a clean handkerchief or washcloth is fine
  • Denture brush - a soft-bristled brush especially for dentures 
  • Denture cleanser - a gel or paste especially for cleaning dentures that usually comes with a brush or a fizzy tablet that is added to water 
  • Container - large enough for soaking dentures when they are not in mouth (frequently a drinking glass is sufficient, though there are also denture containers)

Cleaning instructions:

  1. Line the sink and countertop with a towel.  Placing a soft, folded towel across the counter and down into the sink before removing the dentures will prevent damage if you accidentally drop them. Dentures can be slippery, especially if you are not used to handling them. The towel will provide a cushion against breakage if dropped.
  2. Remove dentures from mouth.
  3. To remove the upper denture, against the back of the front teeth, press upward and outward towards the nose. The upper denture should dislodge and come out in your hand.
  4. To remove the lower denture, grip the front and back of the visible teeth on both sides and slowly pull while applying a rocking motion.
  5. Once removed, rinse them with warm (NOT HOT) water.
  6. Handle dentures carefully. Be sure not to bend or damage the dentures or the clasps during cleaning.
  7. Clean mouth after removing dentures. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush on natural teeth and to clean tongue, cheeks, and roof of mouth. If denture adhesive was used, remove any remaining adhesive from the gums. 
  8. Brush dentures at least daily. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush, gently brush dentures to loosen and remove bacteria, food particles, and plaque. Clean all areas of the denture surface. If denture adhesive is used, clean the grooves that fit against gums to remove any remaining adhesive. You can use a denture cleanser or mild soap and warm (NOT HOT) water. After brushing, rinse the dentures thoroughly with warm water, removing all cleanser or soap residue. You can buy specialized denture cleansers for soaking dentures, but soaking is not a substitute for brushing—you need to brush the dentures to remove plaque and adhesive.
  9. Soak dentures overnight. Place the dentures in water or a mild denture-soaking solution overnight. In the mornings, rinse dentures thoroughly before wearing. 
  10. Rinse dentures thoroughly. Before returning dentures to the mouth, especially if using a denture-soaking solution, be sure to rinse them completely. These solutions can contain harmful chemicals that cause vomiting, pain, or burns if ingested.

Contact your dentist or medical provider

  • If your loved one complains of pain or if the dentures have a loose fit. Loose dentures can cause eating complications, irritation, sores, and infection.
  • For regular dental checkups. The dentist can help ensure a proper fit to prevent slippage and discomfort, as well as check overall oral health.

Dentures are fragile

  • Avoid abrasive cleaning materials. Avoid stiff-bristled brushes, strong cleansers, and harsh toothpaste. They are too abrasive and can damage dentures.
  • Avoid whitening toothpastes. Whitening pastes often contain peroxide, which does little to change the color of dentures but can dry them out. They may also contain abrasives that can cause denture damage.
  • Avoid products containing bleach. Whereas peroxide may not change denture color, bleach will. Bleach products can also weaken dentures. And do not soak dentures with metal attachments in solutions that contain bleach because it can tarnish and corrode the metal.
  • Avoid hot water. Avoid hot or boiling water that could warp dentures.
  • Never attempt to fix broken dentures. See the dentist right away to repair or replace damaged or broken dentures.

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