Dentures, also known as false teeth, are a type of dental prosthesis for people missing one, some, or all of their teeth. Fitting a denture to replace missing teeth usually helps patients with their eating and speech. It can also protect the remaining teeth, prevent the face from sagging and improve the patient’s self-confidence.
You might imagine a set of teeth in a glass of water on the bedside table, but there’s a lot more to them than that!
There are many different types of dentures, classed according to:
- How many teeth they are replacing (full or partial)
- Whether they are fixed in place or removable
- Whether they are supported by the gum or by implants inserted into the jaw bone
- The material they are made from
If you’re worried about the cost of dentures, the good news is that they are one of the most affordable types of prosthetic device available. If you’re in the UK, some types are available on the NHS. And if you have dental insurance, there may well be some cover for false teeth included in your policy.
In this article you can read about the different ways to fit artificial teeth and the approximate denture costs in the UK. We also cover some of the practicalities of wearing them so you can decide whether they are an option for you.
Table of contents
- 1 Types of dentures
- 2 What are modern false teeth made from?
- 3 How much do false teeth cost in the UK?
- 4 Comparison of tooth replacement options
- 5 Living with artificial teeth
- 6 Alternative treatments
- 7 Conclusion
Types of dentures
The term ‘dentures’ covers a whole range of false teeth options. It could be anything from one single replacement tooth hooked around neighbouring teeth, to a full set of teeth on an acrylic base.
You’ll need to speak to your dentist to find out which type would be best suited to you, but below is some information on the main types of false teeth available so that you can understand the options and make an informed decision.
Complete vs. partial dentures
The artificial teeth are fixed to a plate which sits snugly over your gums and – in the case of an upper denture – on the roof of your mouth. This plate is usually made from a gum-coloured acrylic material, but the inner part can be made from metal. The ‘gum’ extends far enough away from the teeth that the edge is not visible when you smile.
When the base fits well, natural suction keeps it in place. But over time, your jaw bone changes shape and the plate will eventually become loose. False teeth glue can be used to keep it in place for a while, but if you’re experiencing this problem too often, it’s probably time to get a new set of teeth from your dentist.
Partial dentures are used when some healthy, natural teeth are still present. They are carefully shaped by a dental technician to fit around and clip onto any remaining teeth. Both the artificial teeth and gum are coloured to be a good match with your natural teeth and gums.
Although the metal clasps are designed to be as inconspicuous as possible, they may still be visible when you talk, depending on their position. The clips can be made from a tooth-coloured material, but this isn’t as strong as metal.
Removable false teeth
Traditional dentures are designed to be removable. Complete sets may have to be removed overnight for cleaning, whereas partial ones can often be worn for longer and brushed as normal. A dentist can advise on the exact cleaning procedure you should follow.
The fact that they are removable does mean they can slip out of place – particularly when eating foods that require a stronger biting force. For this reason, dentists often advise patients to avoid certain hard, sticky and chewy foods.
Patients may choose to use a dental adhesive which helps keep their artificial teeth more securely in place. This might allow access to more foods, but it can be messy and fiddly to deal with.
Dental implants are a permanent and versatile way to replace any number of missing teeth. A metal screw is inserted into the jawbone to provide the stability of a tooth root. An artificial crown, bridge or denture is then affixed to the implants.
Although implants are often used for single and multiple missing teeth, for now we will focus on how a full set of permanent dentures can be supported by implants.
Fixed dentures are held securely in place by dental implants inserted into the jaw. This eliminates one of the big concerns many people have about conventional full dentures – that they will slip out of place, particularly on the lower jaw where there is not much for them to hold onto.
It’s possible to replace a full jaw of teeth with traditional teeth implants, but this technique typically requires 8-10 implants in the jaw. It is, therefore, the most expensive option.
With an implant-retained denture, just 4-6 implants are used in each jaw, making them a more affordable alternative to traditional implants. The overdenture is attached using either a metal bar which spans all the implants (as pictured) or individual ball attachments for each implant.
With some systems the overdenture is fixed in place permanently; with others it is removed for cleaning as with regular false teeth.
It is possible to affix a removable overdenture with as few as two implants, but this won’t have the same biting and chewing strength as one that uses four or more implants.
Benefits of implants
Permanent dentures with implants are a good alternative to false teeth (as they are traditionally perceived), offering the following benefits:
- Teeth are stable and secure
- No discomfort from friction with the gum
- More hygienic due to less surface contact with gums
- Allow normal chewing and eating
- No acrylic blocking the taste of food
The implants gradually fuse with the jaw bone and encourage it to maintain its shape. Usually, when a tooth is extracted, the bone eventually recedes because it doesn’t have a root to hold on to, and over time, the face starts sagging. If you need teeth replaced at a relatively young age, implants are the best long-term solution for keeping the outward appearance of the face the same.
If bone loss has already occurred, the patient may have to undergo bone graft surgery before implants can be placed.
All-on-4 is a popular brand of full-mouth implant which allows the overdenture to be fitted on the same day the teeth are extracted. Here you can read more about these and the procedure involved.
If you need to have an unhealthy tooth extracted, your dentist may wait a few weeks or months before measuring your mouth to create your false teeth. This allows the extraction site to heal and the gum to settle.
Patients who are missing a tooth in a prominent position may not want to walk around with a gappy smile for all this time. It’s therefore possible to get temporary false teeth which are fitted straight after extraction – known as ‘immediate dentures’.
Because of the way the gum and bone change shape after a tooth is extracted, it’s likely that these temporary teeth will soon become uncomfortable and will need to be replaced.
Before commencing treatment, ask your dentist about the procedure involved. Be clear about whether your new teeth will be fitted immediately and how soon you’re likely to have to buy a replacement set.
What are modern false teeth made from?
The teeth themselves can be made from acrylic resin, metal covered in acrylic, or porcelain. Acrylic is most commonly used these days because of its durability. Porcelain can look more natural but it’s more expensive and not as lightweight as acrylic.
When it comes to the base, a complete denture is usually 100% acrylic, although it may be reinforced with metal. Partials more often use metal in the framework for added strength and durability. The metal parts should be hidden on the roof of the mouth or behind the existing teeth, except for perhaps one or two metal clasps that fit around the existing teeth.
This fascinating video shows all the different steps involved with making a full set of acrylic teeth to fit a patient’s mouth:
NHS dentures are made in much the same way. Your dentist begins by taking a dental impression which is sent to a laboratory. They fit a trial version in your mouth to make sure you’re happy with the shape and appearance. They may make slight adjustments, then will return it to the lab to have the final set cast in acrylic.
One popular alternative to conventional false teeth is flexible dentures such as Valplast flexible partials. These don’t have the rigidity of acrylic and are also less bulky. This means they are more comfortable to wear and are less likely to cause difficulties with speech.
Benefits of Valplast flexible dentures include:
- Extremely durable material
- Soft material which is gentler to gums
- No unsightly metal clasps
- No adhesive needed
- Translucent resin material blends with natural gum colour
- Thin and lightweight, less effect on speech
Valplast dentures cost more than those that use traditional materials, and generally are not available on the NHS. However, they are still a cheap alternative to implants and don’t involve any surgery.
Note that these can only be used for partial teeth replacement – they are not available as a full set.
How much do false teeth cost in the UK?
Conventional false teeth prices are much lower than implant prices; in fact, they are the most affordable way to replace missing teeth. However, the cost of dentures still varies according to the material used and the number of teeth needing to be replaced.
As you saw in the video above, a dental technician follows a long series of steps to get the final product that fits snugly in your mouth. They have to place and position each tooth in the base by hand. Generally, the more teeth you need to replace, the more the dentures cost.
If you’re interested in implant-retained dentures but worried about the higher cost, consider getting treatment abroad in a country known for dental tourism. In places like Hungary and Poland you can get top-quality treatment in state-of-the-art clinics for less than half the price you’d pay in the UK.
How much are dentures on the NHS?
The cost of false teeth on the NHS is the band 3 treatment charge, which is £256.50 for 2018/19. This applies whether you’re getting full or partial dentures, and includes any preparatory work like extractions.
You’ll have to pay this charge every time you need a new set, which may be around every five years.
If you’re not eligible for NHS treatment for some reason, or are struggling to find an NHS dentist accepting new patients, it’s still possible to get affordable dentures as a private patient. You may even find that private treatment is cheaper than NHS treatment if only one or two teeth are being replaced – and you’ll have more flexibility to choose materials and aesthetics you’re happy with.
If you are being treated as a private patient, shop around to make sure you’re getting the best price possible for your treatment.
Comparison of tooth replacement options
The table below summarises the points discussed so far for the different types of replacement teeth:
|Type of denture||Traditional (NHS)||Traditional (private)||Implant-supported||Flexible|
|Material||Acrylic, nylon or metal, rigid shape||Acrylic, nylon or metal, rigid shape||Titanium dental implant with overdenture||Nylon-based resin, soft and flexible|
|Full or partial?||Either||Either||Full||Partial only|
|Longevity||Last around 5 years||Last around 5 years||Implants last 10+ years||At least as long as acrylic/metal lasts|
|Cost||£256.50||£200 - £2,500 depending on material and number of teeth||£4,000 - £14,000 for a full jaw depending on system used||£450 - £1,500 depending on number of teeth|
|Practicalities||Gum changes shape over time, may become loose and uncomfortable; limited eating||Gum changes shape over time, may become loose and uncomfortable; limited eating||Secure but removable; more comfortable to wear; normal eating||Can damage supporting teeth in the same way as acrylic/metal|
Living with artificial teeth
74% of British adults are missing at least one of their natural teeth, and 6% have no natural teeth left. So, if you decide to get your missing tooth or teeth replaced, rest assured you won’t be alone. Fortunately, advances in dentistry mean it’s much harder than it used to be to spot whether someone’s teeth are natural or artificial.
Are they comfortable?
False teeth are custom-made to fit your mouth, so they should be comfortable to wear. That said, it might take some time to get used to them, particularly when eating.
However, as previously mentioned, your gums and jaw change shape over time, particularly after you have had teeth removed. Since the prosthesis is a fixed shape (unless you opt for a flexible material), it will become uncomfortable over time.
If you have any concerns you should visit your dentist. It’s better to get a new set made than to suffer in silence. If you wear a poorly-fitting appliance for long enough, you may start to develop mouth sores and even oral infections.
Cleaning and maintenance
Do you know why we have that stereotypical image of the teeth in a glass full of water at nighttime? It’s not so much to clean them as to stop them drying out. Many people remove their false teeth overnight for comfort, and if not kept moist they can lose their shape.
The Oral Health Foundation has recently issued new guidelines for cleaning dentures, after existing recommendations were deemed “confusing” and “unreliable”.
If you don’t clean your dental appliance properly, not only are you increasing your chances of gum disease and tooth decay, but you’ll probably develop bad breath because of all the bacteria sticking to it. Plus, your dentures may start to taste funny. Cleaning also helps to reduce the chances of staining.
To prevent any oral health problems associated with incorrect denture maintenance, the advice is now to:
- Brush your dentures daily with a non-abrasive cleaner (not toothpaste)
- Soak your dentures daily in a disinfecting denture cleanser
- Keep your dentures out at night, unless your dentist instructs you otherwise
- Have regular dental checkups so your dentist can check your overall oral health
This video animation shows what your cleaning routine might look like:
Your dentist will be glad to show you how to clean your dentures properly. They may provide a special brush or other tool to make this easier. You might not have to remove your dentures every time you brush your teeth, but it’s easier to remove all traces of food if you can see what you’re doing.
Whatever routine you follow, one good tip is to clean your false teeth over a sink full of water or a folded towel. The reason for this is it makes them less likely to break if you drop them.
Meanwhile, you should maintain good oral hygiene practices to keep your remaining natural teeth clean. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once a day.
How long do false teeth last?
There are three things that will mean you need to replace your appliance:
- Cracks and breakages to the materials
- General wear and tear (erosion, staining, etc.)
- Changes to the shape of your mouth causing a poor fit
Barring point 3, the materials used in traditional and fixed dentures can be expected to last up to five years – maybe longer if cared for well.
But your mouth may naturally change shape before this. It’s best to visit your dentist for new dentures before they become too loose or uncomfortable. Also see your dentist if you notice clicking when you talk or eat, or if your gums are bleeding.
If you have implants and the overdenture becomes damaged, this damaged part can be replaced without interfering with the implants.
If you need to replace all or most of your natural teeth then your only choices are removable dentures or implants of some kind. Removable dentures cost a lot less than implants but aren’t as durable and may be less comfortable.
If you just have one or two missing teeth then you might consider a dental bridge. This type of prosthesis is like a permanent false tooth, but without the need for an implant. A bridge is held in place by the neighbouring teeth, either with crowns or with bonded metal ‘wings’.
The downside of a bridge attached with crowns is that it requires a layer of the healthy adjacent teeth to be removed in order for the crows to fit properly. If the patient ever wants to switch to a tooth implant, for example, the other teeth would need to be re-crowned individually.
However, bridges are a natural-looking and long-lasting way to replace one – or even two – missing teeth. Bridges are also available on the NHS under the band 3 treatment charge. With a private dentist, denture prices are likely to be more affordable than bridges.
False teeth may not be the ideal solution for everyone, and if worn long-term there is a risk of deterioration of the jaw bone. Still, they are an affordable way to fill a gap in your smile or replace all your teeth. Thanks to modern advances, they look more natural and feel more comfortable than ever before.
Many people choose to get dentures as a temporary measure while they save up for permanent tooth implants.
If you’re considering implants but are worried about the cost, check out our article on how to save money on dental implants. You may find a dental school offering cheap treatment, or you could look at the option of visiting a dentist overseas. We hope the information we provide helps you to find a solution you’re happy with.