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Care Strategies for Removable Dental Prostheses

Adopting a multidisciplinary approach can improve outcomes for patients who wear dentures.

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PURCHASE COURSE
This course was published in the January 2023 issue and expires January 2026. The authors have no commercial conflicts of interest to disclose. This 2 credit hour self-study activity is electronically mediated.

AGD Subject Code: 670

EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVES

After reading this course, the participant should be able to:

  1. Describe how removable dental prosthesis care impacts health.
  2. Discuss essential information patients should receive regarding the care of removable oral prostheses.
  3. Identify the role of oral health professionals, nurses, dietitians and pharmacists in improving outcomes for patients who wear dentures.

Severe tooth loss (having ≤ 8 natural teeth) and edentulism negatively impact health and quality of life.1,2 In 2019, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported one in six (17%) adults over the age of 65 and 43% of current older adult smokers had lost all their teeth.2 In 2020, approximately 41 million Americans reported using partial or full dentures. As the population ages, this number is projected to increase to approximately 42.5 million by 2024.3 Removable dental prostheses can impact patient health, quality of life, nutrition, and social and professional interactions. Psychologically, denture wearers may experience anxiety with oral care, including a sense of inferiority provoked by tooth loss and denture use that can impact day-to-day functioning.4,5 While proper fit, care, and maintenance of dentures are vital to overall health and well-being, this may not be widely achieved.4,6–8

Ill-fitting dentures can cause chronic mucosal irritation and trauma, increasing the risk of ulcerated lesions and oral cancer. In addition, ulcers may be vulnerable to infection.9–11 For example, while Candida is common in the oral mucosa, its accumulation can lead to candidiasis and drive further inflammation and disease sequelae in susceptible individuals.6,11 Both oral trauma and poor denture hygiene have been implicated in the development of denture-induced stomatitis (DIS), a frequent occurrence among denture wearers. Evidence of oral fungal infection is detected in 70% of individuals showing clinical signs of DIS.12,13 Proper care and maintenance of these prostheses are key to favorable outcomes.

Removable oral prosthesis care and daily hygiene require attention from not only patients and dental professionals, but also multidisciplinary healthcare teams and researchers. This paper will describe unmet needs in denture care and the integral role of dental providers and other healthcare and research professionals in improving quality of life for patients who use removable prostheses.

EVIDENCE GAP SURROUNDING DENTURE CARE

Denture care is an integral component of overall health and well-being. Achieving optimal outcomes depends on solid evidence that informs clinical practice and reinforces patient compliance.

At the foundation of unmet needs is a lack of systematic research evaluating the relative impact of various denture hygiene measures on oral health and adverse health outcomes. A Cochrane systematic review on different denture cleaning interventions in adults found only six randomized controlled trials suitable for analysis of complete dentures (none in partial); however, definitive conclusions could not be made due to the heterogeneity of the subjects and methods used in the studies.14 The review mentioned isolated reports that have found chemical cleaning and brushing to be more effective than placebos in reducing denture plaque and microbial loads. While studies examining various methods in different patient populations have been reported, the lack of a systematic approach precludes evidence-based clinical recommendations.

An extension of the evidence gap is the ambiguity surrounding practice recommendations — an issue that is further exacerbated by online resources that can be vague or incorrect.5 There is no established consensus regarding oral hygiene measures and very few national or international guidelines on appropriate denture cleaning.1,5,15–20 Existing recommendations vary across countries and specialties, contributing to patient confusion and creating a possible disconnect between healthcare providers. A prime example involves the overnight storage of dentures. While the American College of Prosthodontists advises storing them in water to prevent drying,1 the National Health Service in the United Kingdom suggests storing them dry,21 and other organizations avoid making any recommendation. Consequently, many patients lack the necessary knowledge of how to best care for removable oral prostheses.5,8,22 

This knowledge gap is compounded by practitioner time constraints and a lack of clarity around who should impart the available information. Patients engage with a dentist when acquiring new dentures, but detailed instruction on caring for the prosthesis — and the impact of the prosthesis on eating habits and oral and general health — may not be covered. A positive relationship between combined verbal and written instruction and denture cleanliness has been demonstrated.8 Long-term follow-up and surveillance of care also need improvement, particularly among residents of long-term care facilities and those with special needs. Ideally, cohesive education should be delivered by a multidisciplinary team wherein oral health professionals, nurses, pharmacists and dietitians collaborate to reinforce the core principles of denture hygiene.

In terms of denture care techniques, comprehensive training of healthcare providers — from undergraduate to postgraduate level, and through continuing education — is vital.21 Thus, allied health professionals may need to evaluate whether other healthcare providers are given adequate training, beginning with the educational curriculum. For example, curricula should:

  • Undergo evaluation to ensure that caring for removable oral prostheses and the negative consequences of insufficient care are adequately emphasized
  • Include the value of multidisciplinary approaches to convey knowledge to patients, including the roles of dental professionals, nurses, dietitians and pharmacists
  • Receive periodic updates in tandem with emerging data, revised clinical recommendations and changing health behaviors

The impact of socioeconomic status on denture use, daily care, and adverse outcomes cannot be overstated. Patients of low socioeconomic status are more likely to need a removable oral prosthesis, are disproportionally affected by oral diseases, and are less likely to have access to dental care.23–25 Social, economic and cultural issues should be incorporated into curricula and healthcare approaches, with educational materials tailored to meet the unique needs of these patients. Research evaluating the extent to which existing curricula meet these needs would provide an important scaffold for developing recommendations to improve outcomes in underserved communities.

ROLE OF THE DENTAL TEAM

As licensed professionals trained in the prevention and treatment of oral diseases, dentists and dental hygienists are ideally suited to provide patient education on denture care and monitor their progress to identify and address problems as they arise. Dental teams and allied practitioners can significantly impact outcomes by asking questions to gauge patients’ existing knowledge and hygiene practices. Simple questions can provide important insights that may guide further intervention, including:

  • Do your dentures fit well?
  • Are you experiencing any gum tenderness or irritation?
  • Do you have any preference for denture care products?
  • Are you having difficulty inserting or removing your prosthesis?
  • Are you experiencing any other health issues or discomfort?

During patient encounters, symptoms — such as oral malodor, mouth ulcers, red or swollen gingiva, scaling and shallow painful fissures at the corners of the mouth, dry mouth and lips, coated tongue, broken teeth and/or thick secretions — should prompt further inquiry into the educational needs of the patient.26 With an established knowledge base and care competence, dental teams can educate patients on best practices for maintaining removable oral prostheses, prioritize areas of greatest need, and encourage regular examinations. More frequent evaluations may be needed in certain high-risk populations, such as those with Parkinson disease, neurocognitive disorders, physical handicaps, dysphagia or immunodeficiency.21

Prior to the appointment for placement of a new denture, dental teams can counsel patients about what to expect and recommend soft and easy-to-chew foods as they adapt to the new prosthesis. Clinicians may wish to encourage chewing longer and eating slower, as swallowing may be more challenging. During the adaptation period, fibrous food should be cut into small pieces and individuals should begin by chewing with their molars and progress to biting with incisors when they feel more comfortable with the prosthesis. Initially, diet may be limited due to residual inflammation, and liquid nutritional supplements may be required for the first week or two to facilitate caloric intake and promote tissue repair.

At follow-up visits, clinicians can inquire about dietary habits, note changes in food preferences indicative of deterioration in denture fit, and consider vitamin D insufficiency, which may play a role in periodontal health.27 Dairy products fortified with vitamin D should be encouraged to slow the rate of bone loss. A consultation with a dietitian may be warranted if the patient reports unexpected weight loss, which may be due to changes in eating patterns or avoidance of certain food groups.15,28 Additional proactive measures include promoting an overall healthy diet, limiting sweet foods to mealtimes to reduce denture exposure to an acidic environment, and encouraging consumption of anticariogenic foods that stimulate salivary flow.

Nurses, pharmacists and dietitians can work in parallel with dental professionals to bolster education. Oral health has been shown to deteriorate during hospitalizations and in long-term care facilities.26 Nurses working in these settings may take a similar approach to dental providers in assessing and intervening. Issues resulting from poor oral care should be treated as a high priority and task competence should be assessed to determine the need for regular assistance with brushing and other oral hygiene measures. Pharmacists can engage with patients regarding the impact of medications on oral health, advise on denture care and other oral care products and their correct usage, and encourage continuity of care.29

TABLE 1. Recommendations from a European Consensus Panel: Standard for Oral Healthcare in Care-Dependent Older Adults

BEST PRACTICES

Effective communication of best practices regarding denture hygiene would greatly improve oral health. Several professional societies have issued denture care statements that agree on general principles, but lack cohesion and specificity regarding best practices for removable oral prosthesis care. Recently, an interdisciplinary panel of 31 experts consisting of dentists, dental hygienists and physicians from 17 European countries evaluated oral health policy, access to dental care, oral hygiene measures and provider training. These efforts resulted in the publication of a European consensus statement on minimum standards for oral hygiene in care-dependent older adults (Table 1).21 The panel further concurred that insufficient attention is given to this topic and concluded that proper training of dental professionals is paramount to successful outcomes.21

The shape of the oral cavity changes over time, impacting the fit of removable oral prostheses; this illustrates the need for regular oral examinations and fit assessments. The dynamic nature of the oral cavity and need for adjustments should be emphasized during patient interactions. Where possible, denture wearers should be enrolled in a regular recall and maintenance program.20

IMPROVING OUTCOMES

Implementing educational initiatives can significantly improve provider knowledge, attitudes, performance and outcomes.30 While a detailed description of the approaches that could enhance educational efforts is beyond the scope of this review, key concepts could include unbiased evaluation of existing frameworks; encouraging patient-centric, multidisciplinary team-based oral healthcare; and understanding how multiple disciplines can interact to provide the most effective and efficient healthcare outcomes.

The development of an evidence-based consensus statement from oral health professionals, nurses, registered dietitians and pharmacists on a standard for denture care, maintenance and storage would be an important clinical practice guide. Engaging advocacy groups in the development of guidelines is likely to maximize commitment among relevant professional communities. Development and implementation of social determinants of a health framework would also be a valuable addition to existing curricula.

In parallel, systematic research is required to clarify the role and value of different practices and strengthen the educational framework. This could include any or all of the following:

  • Systematically comparing the efficacy of mechanical and chemical methods of denture cleaning
  • Defining the level of “cleanliness” needed to prevent oral disease
  • Elucidating the relationships between denture care, oral health and disease
  • Exploring the impact of denture adhesives and different methods of adhesive removal on oral tissues
  • Analysis of the cost effectiveness of various recommendations
  • Longitudinal analyses of the psychosocial and behavioral factors that contribute to oral health inequalities1,14,20,24

CONCLUSION

Inadequate care of removable oral prostheses contributes to morbidity and creates an avoidable burden on healthcare systems. Dental professionals, nurses, dietitians and pharmacists play an important role in patient education. While many are well-versed in the proper care of dentures, by improving educational curricula and training, a rounded, multidisciplinary approach to oral health and denture care can be achieved. Ultimately, a concerted effort by professional societies, policymakers and payers will be needed to close the existing gaps in education and care delivery, particularly in regard to at-risk and underserved populations.denture care

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The authors thank Ellen R. Guritzky, MSJ, RDH; Meri Pozo, PhD, CMPP; and Caitlin McOmish for their assistance in the development of this manuscript.

REFERENCES

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  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral Health Surveillance Report: Trends in Dental Caries and Sealants, Tooth Retention, and Edentulism, United States, 1999–2004 to 2011–2016. Available at: https:/​​/​​www.cdc.gov/​​oralhealth/​​publications/​​OHSR-2019-index.html. Accessed December 1, 2022.
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From Decisions in Dentistry. January 2023;9(1)40-43.

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