A commonly accepted recommendation in years past was that denture wearers should wear their dentures 24/7. In theory, dentures would fit better in this way. However, today we know that this probably is no longer the correct approach–with few exceptions.
Dentures are prosthetics that are usually made of plastic. This is a foreign material in the mouth, and the skin of the mouth is not designed to be in constant contact with plastic. The biologic reactions that occur when the tissues are not permitted to relax and “breathe” for at least 8 hours a day are destructive to the bone and soft tissues. The relaxation that occurs overnight of these tissues gets compressed by the dentures when they are placed back in the mouth, and the healthy tissues must adapt. This often creates a momentary loss of retention, and properly fitted dentures may feel like they do not fit as well first thing in the morning. In actuality, this proves how much the dentures compress the tissues during the day and accentuate the reason to remove them at night.
Most people grind their teeth during sleep, regardless of whether they wear dentures or have natural teeth. When dentures are worn during sleep, grinding contributes to rapid bone loss, sore spot development, and rapid denture wear or breakage. Removing dentures at night allows free movement of the jaw without causing destruction of the bone and/or dentures.
Lastly, dentures can be aspirated during sleep, potentially causing death. Only a fraction of the normal saliva produced during the day is secreted during sleep. Since the retention of upper dentures is created by the surface tension of saliva, dentures are not retained well during sleep. If they fall down, a sleeping person may panic and gasp for air, sucking the denture into the windpipe. Essentially, a denture trapped in the trachea functions like the damper in a fireplace, blocking air and suffocating the patient.
There are multiple reasons why dentures should not be worn at night. However, there are certain situations that they should, such as the first few nights following extraction surgery and immediate denture placement. In fact, what we are learning about the position of the lower jaw and its effect on the airway is that people with some sleep disorders may need to sleep with their dentures in to support the dimensions of the oral cavity. In such cases, serious consideration should be given to dental implant therapy to support special sleep appliances rather than dentures alone.
If you are a denture wearer and have not seen a dentist in a long time, it is important that you seek professional advice about your particular situation.