Improvements in dental care, more people living longer and the social value placed on having a healthy smile has led to people keeping their own teeth longer, but it has also led to an increasing number of people needing some kind of restoration work, including crowns, bridges and implants.

A lot of these treatments remain unobtainable for many due to their high cost. Removable dentures are often the only viable option for anyone experiencing tooth loss. A new study by researchers at the University of Sheffield’s Healthy Life Span Institute and the School of Clinical Dentistry has highlighted the emotional struggles and hidden challenges patients experience when having dentures fitted. This is the first study to map out the patient journey and how this experience can affect the overall success of the treatment.

The study found that patients think about their denture journey in four stages: 1) tooth loss – the initial stage where patients lose their teeth; 2) the emotional tunnel, which focuses on the emotional rollercoaster of tooth loss, including self-consciousness, depression, and struggles with dentures; 3) prosthetic hope, which represents the hope and optimism patients feel when getting dentures; and, 4) prosthetic compromise leading to managing disclosure – this final stage acknowledges that dentures take some getting used to.

Lead researcher Barry Gibson, Professor in Medical Sociology at the University of Sheffield said: “Tooth loss can be hugely traumatic and this study has uncovered just how challenging it is for people needing partial dentures. Feelings such as embarrassment or shame can significantly affect the process of having dentures made and fitted. On top of this if they don’t fit properly this can make everyday activities such as speaking, eating and drinking very difficult, which affects a person’s quality of life”.