Hold On Tight

Dentures snap onto dental implants for a snug fit.

Annette Nichols reading a book

Annette can smile with confidence now.

Before retiring 25 years ago, Annette Nichols gave a decade of service to the New Smyrna Beach Police Department.

“I was the police chief’s secretary,” elaborates Annette, 79. “The job involved a lot of typing and talking to people. I did payroll and performed general secretarial duties for the department, but mainly for the chief.

“I liked my job. It was very interesting work. I liked the people who worked in the department, the police officers and the dispatchers. It was a stressful job, but it was very enjoyable.”

Prior to joining the police department, Annette worked for New Smyrna Beach’s sanitation department. When an opportunity arose to move out of sanitation, Annette grabbed it.

“They asked me if I would like to fill in for the secretarial job at the police department and I said, Yes,” she recalls. “Then I got transferred and worked for the police department for 10 years.”

A native of Waterbury, Connecticut, Annette was 29 years old when her family relocated to Florida. Like so many, her family was lured by the promise of warm weather, which she has come to appreciate immensely.

“I love Florida,” Annette enthuses. “I love the sun.”

Long before she moved to Florida, Annette began to lose her teeth as she struggled with poor dental health likely due to periodontitis, or gum disease.

“I don’t remember what caused the problem; all I know is that my teeth were very bad,” Annette recounts. “I wore partials in high school, and after that, the rest of my teeth went bad and I got complete dentures. I’ve worn dentures since I was 23 years old, and I’ll be 80 in June.”

In 2003, while seeking a solution for a loose-fitting lower denture, Annette learned about dental implants and wondered if they would help resolve the problem.

Dental implants are root-shaped, screw-like bodies that are surgically placed into the jawbone. Once the implant has been seated in the jawbone, new bone naturally grows around it to form the foundation for an abutment and replacement teeth.

The replacement teeth can be a single crown that is either cemented or screwed onto the abutment, a partial bridge that can be affixed to one or more implants, or a full denture that can be fastened to a series of implants.

“I had no bone structure in my bottom jaw and my lower plate would just pop out,” Annette details. “I had to use a lot of glue to hold the plate in place. I was hoping dental implants could solve the problem, but I wasn’t sure where to go for that kind of work.”

Annette eventually shared her thoughts with a friend at the nursing home where she volunteered. The friend happened to be the wife of Stephen P. Lester, DDS, of Park Avenue Dentistry in Edgewater. Annette followed her friend’s recommendation to visit Dr. Lester for an evaluation.

Common Complaint

Annette’s issue is common, Dr. Lester informs.

“Lower dentures move around when people speak, eat and smile,” the doctor expounds. “When people sneeze, they have to worry about their dentures literally flying across the room. I’ve seen videos of people skydiving and their dentures fly out of their mouth and disappear forever.”

The reason is because there’s no palate in the lower jaw due to the location of the tongue. The absence of a palate results in less suction to help secure the denture.

Dr. Lester says the most common complaint from patients with lower dentures is that they’re difficult to eat with. That’s mainly because they are generally loose fitting, they move and food gets trapped underneath them.

“Many times, people can’t finish their meal because food gets so packed up under the denture,” Dr. Lester describes. “They often have to excuse themselves from the table and go to the restroom to rinse out their denture, which can be very embarrassing, especially at restaurants.”

But that scenario can be avoided by placing anywhere from two to four dental implants into the lower jaw to secure the denture. The implants keep the denture from moving, so less food is trapped beneath them.

“In most cases, two implants do the trick,” Dr. Lester asserts. “That approach is also more economical.

“In treating Annette, we first had to determine if she had enough bone in her jaw to support implants. She did, and we eventually fit her with two implants, but in cases where patients don’t have enough bone, a bone graft can be performed to build up the jawbone.”

When Annette first visited Dr. Lester in 2003, he was not yet performing implant surgery, so he referred her to a local oral surgeon to have the implants surgically inserted into her jawbone. Once Annette’s implants were healed, Dr. Lester attached the connecting pieces to the implants and converted her lower denture so that it snapped onto the connecting pieces and stayed secure.

“Now, my lower denture doesn’t pop out,” Annette reports. “I could never eat corn on the cob with my denture the way it was before I received the implants, but now I’m able to eat corn on the cob, pork chops and steak with no problem.”

Safe and Secure

Annette Nichols riding her bike

Annette Nichols

Unlike lower dentures, upper dentures typically stay in place without the aid of implants because the palate produces sufficient suction to hold the prosthetic tight in the mouth. Still, some patients prefer the added stability provided by securing the denture with implants.

Several years after receiving her implant-secured lower denture, Annette began to experience difficulty with the fit of her upper denture. Just as she did with her lower denture, she chose to have it stabilized with implants.

“I know many people who have problems with their upper dentures,” Annette states. “They’re either too big or don’t fit right, and they sit in a cup all the time instead of in their mouth. I’ve seen people put their dentures in a napkin and put them in their purse. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to always have my teeth in my mouth, so I made up my mind to have my uppers secured with implants, too.

“I actually thought about it for more than a year but kept putting it off until just recently. Finally, I said, I’m just going to do it. So I went to Dr. Lester, and he took x-rays and a CT scan to make sure I had enough bone, which I did. Dr. Lester had gone back to school and he now does the implant surgery himself. He did the entire job.”

The time required for implants to fuse with the jawbone and develop the strength needed to secure a denture is between three and six months.

Annette waited four months for the implants in her lower jaw to heal but needed a little more time for the implants in her upper jaw to heal.

“The upper jaw is a little spongier, a little weaker, so we wait six months before we screw the snap to the top of the implant,” Dr. Lester informs.

“The other half of the snap is implanted into the denture. We fit them together, and the denture literally snaps into place. It can be removed to be cleaned.”

Dr. Lester seated the implants in Annette’s upper jaw in March. Annette was anxious about the implant surgery, but Dr. Lester gave her an oral sedative to relax her for the procedure. He then used local anesthesia to completely numb the operative site.

“It was just amazing,” Annette reports. “I could hear everything but I didn’t feel a thing. Afterward, I did exactly what Dr. Lester said. I rinsed my mouth with saltwater. He gave me medication in a syringe that I put on a swab to clean the implant area twice a day.

“There wasn’t really any pain. What I felt I can only describe as pressure. All I took was acetaminophen. I had to be very careful because I put my upper plate right back in after surgery so I wasn’t without my teeth. Now I just have to wait for the bone to heal around the implants, and I should get my new dentures in August.”

Annette is glad her friend recommended Dr. Lester. She appreciates the quality of his work.

“Dr. Lester is a very likeable dentist. He’s very pleasant, very helpful and very knowledgeable,” Annette describes. “He answered all my questions, no matter what I asked.

“The results of my treatment won’t change my appearance.

Dr. Lester is just giving me new dentures with implants. I’m sure I’ll be happy with the outcome. I had no problems whatsoever with my bottom implants, and I anticipate having no problems with the uppers.”

© FHCN article by Patti DiPanfilo. Photos by Jordan Pysz. mkb
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