So you’re getting dentures. Or thinking about getting them. Either way, you definitely need to know a little more about them. That’s where we come in.

First things first. What exactly are dentures? They’re basically custom-made appliances that replace missing teeth, restoring appearance as well as oral functions.

After a tooth is extracted (or lost), bone starts filling that empty socket and gum tissue begins to change shape. It’s a process that occurs over the course of several months. Your dentist will start taking a series of  impressions of the oral tissue that will support your denture. A lab uses these impressions to make models for mouth. The dentures are built on the models and will be transferred to your mouth individually to make sure the fit is exact, a proper bite is established and your appearance is normal.

There are two main types of dentures: full (used when all of the person’s teeth are missing) and partial (used when only some teeth are missing).

Full or complete dentures have a plastic base. The colour is designed to replicate gum tissue. The base supports a full set of plastic or porcelain teeth. It’s held in the mouth by forming a seal with the gums – or by being attached to dental implants that have been surgically placed in the jaw bone. (At this point, can we all just take a minute and send a silent thank you to William T.G. Morton, the first dentist to use surgical anaesthesia?)

Partial dentures, on the other hand, are held in the mouth by using clasps and rests, carefully adapted to coexist with natural teeth. Their base is either a plastic or metal framework that supports the number of teeth that need to be replaced. Plastic partial dentures are usually used as a temporary solution during emergencies (fun fact: the person writing this was forced to use them when she fell off a wall at fourteen and lost her front two teeth) but in recent times, new materials have been developed that are considered better alternatives.

As for alternatives to dentures in general, there are two options: bridges and implants. Unless you’re broke, you probably won’t want to consider either of them but as always, talk to your dentist. (You can find your closest one here, by the way.) Remember that with proper care and maintenance, dentures can last a lifetime – and keep the smile you had at sixteen even when you’re sixty. Yay.