10/06/2011 02:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2011

Think Dentures Can Replace Your Teeth? Think Again.

I want to talk today about dentures, but probably not in the way you expect. I want to talk about dentures as opposed to your regular teeth, and how they are not nearly the same.

The reason I decided on this topic was because I hear -- quite often -- patients saying things like "oh, I wish you could just pull my teeth and give me dentures," or something similar. Usually the people saying this need extensive (and expensive) dental work, and they figure that dentures are an easy fix. After all, dentures seem like a no-brainer, right? No cavities, no root canals, no bridges, etc. No expense of going to the dentist every six months, no insurance worries when your dentist tells you that a root canal and crown are needed, etc.

Essentially, the people thinking the above are looking for a "tooth do-over." They want the reset button hit, and to start over again with teeth that do not need dental work. Well, I don't mean to disappoint, but as an NYC cosmetic dentist, I can tell you firsthand that it really doesn't work that way.

I know you hear this all the time, but I will reiterate it -- there is no perfect substitute for your natural teeth. Bridges and implants come the closest (by a wide margin, really). But given a choice, a mouthful of healthy natural teeth is preferable to even implants. And your natural, healthy teeth are far (and I mean really far) superior to dentures. Dentures, in my opinion, should be seen as a last resort.

Let me tell you the biggest thing about natural teeth and your dentures. As a professional dentist, I can attest that for most adults, your bite force with your natural teeth is somewhere around 200-250 pounds of force. Some a little less, some a little more, but that's the sweet spot. With dentures, your bite force is about 50 pounds of force. That's a significant drop off. That's the difference between eating a steak, and eating oatmeal. Do you like oatmeal? For dinner?

The reason for this disparity is your natural teeth are set solidly in your jawbone. Rigid and strong, they handle chewing food with astonishing efficiency. Dentures, on the other hand, rest against your gums. They can be "fixed" all you want with gels and the like, but the fact is, it's not a strong base. There's just "nothing" behind your bite, so to say. Especially on your bottom teeth, where the denture is largely held in place by gravity and your mouth muscles.

Upper dentures can be fixed with a plate that uses suction on your upper palate to stay in place. Yes, I know, it doesn't sound all that strong. Trust me, it's not. More often than not, denture wearers report to me that their dentures end up "flopping around a lot" (I had a patient tell me exactly that a few days ago). Again, dentures are a last resort.

I've seen television commercials advertising adhesives that hold dentures in place, and they show deliriously happy people eating corn on the cob and the like. What they don't show is the 10 to 15 minutes it takes to eat that ear of corn. Yes, the adhesives work to a degree. But you still only bite with about one-fourth of the pressure you could have with real teeth. And that steak we mentioned earlier? Well, I hope you don't mind still eating it while everyone else is on dessert.

I mentioned the plate for upper dentures. I'd like to return to that for a second. If you've read my blog in the past, then you know there are taste buds on your upper palate (the roof of your mouth). Well, if you use upper dentures, these will get covered. That means your sense of taste is going to be markedly diminished. Add in the adhesive, and well, eating starts to lose its luster.

Okay, I've told you all the bad things about dentures. However, I would be remiss if I didn't state that for some people, there really is no other choice. Dentures are associated with older people, and in my mind, that's really the only people who should be using them. Today's longer lifespans sometimes mean that even the best cared for teeth can be lost. Dentures can be a life-enhancing asset in that case. But replacing a mouthful of healthy teeth with dentures? No way, no how.

Given the above, in my mind, the drawbacks of dentures are not worth avoiding root canals and the like. I realize dental work can be a pain (ha, a pun!) and can be expensive at times. However, that should not deter you. Many dentists have payment plans, they take credit cards, there is secondary insurance, etc. I'm not advocating getting into debt -- I am advocating that there are few things as important as your natural teeth. They are worth the investment.

Until next time, keep smiling (with your natural teeth!)