Coming face to face with the reality that you are going to lose your teeth is not easy at any age. When you are a young adult, however, the news can seem life-shattering. While losing your natural teeth is certainly not an ideal situation, there are times when it is the best and right decision, even if you are in your 20s, 30s, or 40s.
The good news is that you are in much better, and larger, company than you might believe. According to the CDC, approximately 2.63% of adults between the ages of 20 and 49 have lost all of their teeth. With an adult population in the same age bracket of approximately 126.5 million, that equates to roughly 3.3 million adults under the age of 50 who are either denture wearers or go through their daily lives with no teeth at all.
Processing the Prognosis
For many young adults faced with total tooth extraction and prosthodontics, coming to terms with and accepting what must be done is often the most difficult part of the process. Many thoughts, questions, and fears can race through the mind. These may include thoughts such as:
- I am too young to wear dentures.
- What will other people think of me?
- How am I going to be able to enjoy eating ever again?
- What if someone sees me without my teeth?
- Will this change the way my spouse/significant other feels about me?
- Is this going to make kissing and intimacy strange?
- I’m not going to be able to look at myself in the mirror the same again!
- People are going to think I’m a lazy slob or a drug addict to lose my teeth so young!
- Dentures are going to make me sound strange when I speak.
- I’m losing a part of myself!
In most cases, the fear of the unknown is far worse than reality. Even so, it can be an emotionally turbulent time, as it is very much a loss of sorts. It is important to allow yourself to go through the stages of grief to arrive at acceptance. Joining an online community of first-time denture wearers is a wonderful way to obtain support, knowledge, tips, and general information about your upcoming life-changing event. You can also find a surprising number of young denture wearers online who video blog their experience.
Preparing for Extractions
Ideally, you will have a few weeks between the time you make the decision to extract your teeth and the time this actually happens. During this time, you’ll have your mouth molded to prepare your immediate denture plates which will be placed as soon as your natural teeth are removed. Sometimes, seeing the finished product can go a long way toward easing your mind about what comes next, so don’t hesitate to ask your dentist for a peek when they are ready.
If you are in a situation that requires you to move forward with extractions before your dentures can be made, talk to your dentist about your options. You may need to schedule extra time off of work, or you may need tips on living without teeth for a while. Again, a support group will be vital in this case.
In either event, resist the temptation to stop caring for your teeth altogether. It’s easy to think that this is unnecessary since they are all about to come out anyway, but plenty of problems can still develop as you await your extractions. The healthier your gums are at the time of your extractions, the easier your recovery will be.
Preparing for Dentures
Tending to the practical preparation for dentures can be helpful while navigating the emotional aspect, as it gives you something you can do. Go ahead and purchase the supplies you will need in the days and weeks to come. Some essential items to have include:
- A denture bath
- A denture brush
- Denture cleansing tablets, powders, or paste
- Over-the-counter pain relief
- Easy-to-eat foods such as jelly, pudding, soups, oatmeal, and yogurt
- Denture adhesive
- Salt for saltwater rinses
- A soft-bristle toothbrush or baby toothbrush for cleaning your gums
Many dentists will give you a starter kit to get you through your first few days, but it is still a good idea to have your own supplies on hand. Also consider getting a good book, a stash of movie rentals, or an online streaming subscription to occupy yourself for a while. You’ll want to rest for a few days and give your body the time it needs to heal itself.
Try to schedule a few days off work if possible. If that is not possible, try to schedule your extractions on a Friday so that you have the weekend to get through the worst of the discomfort and swelling. The mouth is impressively efficient at healing extraction sites when given proper care, so you should be able to begin resuming normal activities in 3-7 days. Just take it slow and follow your dentist’s recommendations to avoid over-doing it.
Moving Forward in Your Life
Getting dentures is not the end of your life or your youth. Most young denture wearers are glad they made the decision within just a few weeks. Aside from having a completely transformed and beautiful smile, they find they are able to enjoy life more than ever now that they are not in constant pain from severely damaged and infected teeth.
As your gums heal and shrink, and you become accustomed to the way your dentures feel and function, you will find yourself more confident with your smile and actually wanting to show it off. It does take some time to learn how to chew and speak, but we are remarkably adaptable as a species. There will come a time when you go an entire day without even thinking about the fact that you are wearing dentures until it’s time to clean them. That is when you know you have truly achieved acceptance and have moved on with the business of life.
Finally, keep in mind that, because you are young and have probably not experienced too much bone loss, you may be an excellent candidate for dental implants in the future. Dentures may serve as a simple bridge to get you from poor oral health to excellent oral health. Discuss this option with your dentist when you are going through the denture process. If it is something you are interested in and you are a candidate, make it a goal to move toward. Otherwise, take pride in knowing that you have overcome a challenging obstacle to take charge of your health, and enjoy your new life without dental pain.
Dr Gerald O’Connor is the principal dentist and owner of Killiney Dental. Dr O’Connor graduated with an honours dental degree from University College Cork in 1998. He has since worked as a general dental surgeon in the UK and Ireland and has over 20 years experience in the dental field, with a particular interest in cosmetic and restorative dentistry. Dr O’Connor is an active member of the Irish Dental Association, sitting on its Quality Patient Safety Committee, and is a Irish Dental Council registered dentist.