antique false teeth or denture

False teeth and dentures: A history

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False teeth and dentures: A History

False teeth- alternatively known as dentures- are a prosthetic device designed to replace missing teeth. There are two main categories of dentures: complete dentures and partial dentures. They can be made for either the upper ‘maxillary’ or lower ‘mandibular’ dental arches. 

Historically, false teeth have been around for quite some time. Some have been discovered in what is today’s Mexico dating back to around 2500BC. They are thought to be made from wolf’s teeth.

Ancient Egyptian dentistry

Egyptians were very knowledgeable about the human body. Because blood was drained and the internal organs removed for mummification, they developed a better understanding of the human body. The Egyptian doctors wrote manuals on many medical procedures. We find evidence of some of the earliest dental procedures to be carried out in one of these manuals, dated to between 3000 and 2500BC. These usually involved the extraction of teeth or drilling of cavities.

Ancient Etruscan dentistry

The Etruscan people of Italy were incredibly intelligent and luxury was of great importance to them. They used their knowledge of dentistry, which they had gained from trade and travel across the seas. Around 700BC, they were using gold wire and bands to attach human and animal teeth. The gold bands were wrapped around the teeth and cemented by soldering with heat; although this is more like a cross between a dental bridge and a denture.

Ancient Greek Dentistry

Archaeologists have learned a lot from the mummified remains of a Greek man who lived about 2100 years ago. He had severe dental problems and a life of painful cavities and as a result, died from a sinus infection. Greek dentists struggled to cure the man. In order to prevent food from entering the cavity and festering, linen soaked in medicine was used to plug the tooth. Greeks were not fond of extractions and would often suffer the pain as it was preferable to losing the tooth.

Ancient Mayan Dentistry

Many think that dental implants are the cutting edge of modern dentistry; however, the Mayan civilization used them first. Around 600 A.D., they would put pieces of bone, seashells, and even carved rocks in a tooth socket. The jaw bone would grow around these materials, just like it does for dental implants today

Waterloo False Teeth

In 1815, the Battle of Waterloo left over 50,000 dead soldiers. Afterwards, the people of Belgium collected the teeth from the casulties, which numbered over 1.6million and sold them to England; shipping them over in barrels.

It actually became popular to have “Waterloo Teeth” to replace missing ones. 

George Washington’s false teeth

George Washington suffered from poor dental health throughout his adulthood. Beginning in his twenties he experienced regular toothaches, decay, and tooth loss. It is likely that due not only to genetics, but also factors common during Washington’s era, including a poorly balanced diet and disease, contributed to his dental problems. As a result, he spent his life in frequent pain. He used a variety of tooth cleaners, dental medicines, and dentures.

Prior to Washington’s service in the Revolutionary War, Dr John Baker fabricated a partial denture with ivory. This was wired to Washington’s remaining real teeth.

In the 1780s, Washington employed the services of Jean-Pierre Le Mayeur, a French dentist living in America. However, it is unclear precisely what dental services Le Mayeur performed.

Despite some claims, Washington’s false teeth were not made of wood!

False teeth in the industrial era

Alexis Duchâteau made the first porcelain dentures in 1770. Before that he wore dentures made from hippopotamus. Unfortunately, they began to rot, so he tried to make something more durable. His first tries were unsuccessful. However when he teamed up with Nicholas Dubois De Chemant, a dentist, they managed to make a pair that Duchâteau could wear. They looked nice but unfortunately they chipped easily. Nicholas Dubois De Chemant improved porcelain for dentures, making it stronger. He had the first British patent for porcelain dentures in 1791. Progress was further made in 1820, Samuel Stockton, a goldsmith made improved porcelain dentures mounted on 18-carat gold plates.

In the 1850s, Vulcanite, a type of hardened rubber and porcelain teeth were used to make dentures. Vulcanite was cheap and this allowed dentures to became available to the wider population. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the copyright under which Vulcanite was manufactured.

An alternative was sought and found in aluminium whose popularity lasted until copyright on Vulcanite expired and it became standard denture base material. 

In 1868, Hyatt invented Celluloid. From 1890 celluloid was as a denture base material. Because it used camphor as the plasticiser, it had an unpleasant odour. It also didn’t hold shape for long. However, this marked the beginning of plastics as materials for dentures. In 1909 Leo Baekeland developed Bakelite and in 1924, made its first appearance in dentistry.

In the 1940s, when improved resins were introduced, the use of Vulcanite fell out of fashion.

Modern Dentures

From 1938 polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA or acrylic resin) became the prevailing material for denture bases. It is inexpensive, hard, translucent, inert and is easy to repair. In addition, acrylic has no unpleasant odour or toxicity. Because of these characteristics, it is still used today

In 2018, The Wellcome Collection had an exhibition on the history of false teeth. Visit their false teeth online catalogue.

Alternatively, if you would like to know more about the dentures and materials that are currently on the market, and how Care Denture can create the perfect smile for you, please visit our website.


Oral Health

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Oral health is more than just taking care of your teeth, and there are many other reasons why you should visit your dental professional regularly even if you wear complete dentures and have no remaining natural teeth.

Apart from tooth decay, checking for gum disease is one of the most important things in your oral health checkup, as is screening for oral cancerLike with most types of cancer early detection can save lives! So this is important especially for complete denture patients that may not visit their dental practice regularly.

Mouth Cancer

The risk of developing oral cancer is increased by smoking or chewing tobacco, the consumption of alcohol or by contracting the HPV (the human papillomavirus) that causes genital warts.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Mouth ulcers that don’t heal or have persisted for several weeks.
  • Unknown lumps and bumps in the mouth that won’t go away
  • Unexplained lose teeth or extracted tooth sockets that do not heal.
  • Numbness – in the lip, tongue or any of the soft tissues.
  • Discolouration – white or red patches anywhere in the mouth.
  • Changes in speech.

So if you notice anything unusual, please go and see your doctor or dentist. Chances are it’s probably not serious, but it’s worthwhile getting it checked just in case.

Oral Thrush (Candida Albicans)

Oral thrush occurs when a yeast infection develops on the inside of your mouth and on your tongue. This condition is also known as oropharyngeal candidiasis.

This can be quite common for denture wearers that do not remove their dentures at night.

Oral thrush is typically a mild infection that rarely causes complications. However, the condition can be problematic for those with weakened immune systems.

In its initial stages, oral thrush may not cause any symptoms. However, as time passes and the fungus continues to grow, the following symptoms may develop:

  • creamy white bumps on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, or tonsils
  • slight bleeding when the bumps are scraped
  • pain at the site of the bumps
  • dry, cracked skin at the corners of the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing

You might get thrush if you’re:

  • taking antibiotics over a long time
  • using asthma inhalers
  • getting cancer treatment like chemotherapy


Coated Tongue (Hairy Tongue)

This is usually a white coating on the dorsum of the tongue which is often associated with smoking. This can be treated with a tongue scraper and is not normally something to worry about.

coated tongue


Black hairy tongue may sound scary, but the condition is harmless. Black hairy tongue is caused by bacteria or fungi in the mouth, which make the tongue appear black and hairy. It’s easily remedied by good old-fashioned oral hygiene.

black coated tongue


“Geographic tongue” (Benign migratory glossitis).

The cause of geographic tongue is unknown. This is not considered a serious condition and presents no symptoms and is not linked to cancer.

geographic tongue


Oral lichen planus

Oral lichen planus is an ongoing (chronic) inflammatory condition that affects mucous membranes inside your mouth. Oral lichen planus may appear as white, lacy patches; red, swollen tissues; or open sores. These lesions may cause burning, pain or other discomfort.


inside of cheek lichen planus


Oral lichen planus can’t be passed from one person to another. The disorder occurs when the immune system mounts an attack against cells of the oral mucous membranes for unknown reasons (autoimmune disorder).

Symptoms can usually be managed with medication, but the symptoms need to be monitored as there may be a risk of developing oral cancer.

The best dentures for you is all about communication

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Getting new dentures

Providing dentures is a difficult task, pretty much the ‘dark art’ of dentistry. It’s also a long and complicated procedure, both in the clinic where we see you, the patient; and in the laboratory where we process the dentures.

Now, the reason it is so difficult is that we are dealing with a human. And most humans do not like having someone work in their mouth! We feel on some level it is a violation of our personal space. It is important to us that we treat every patient as an individual. You are completely different from any other person we have provided dentures for.

With most denture wearers there is usually some anxiety and fear of visiting a dentist. You may also have very limited knowledge of what is actually being done at each appointment, further adding to any feelings of anxiety and unease.

Communication is key

It is important that we have a good talk with you and understand exactly what it is you are looking for. Equally important is for you the patient to know what it is you require.

There have been many occasions where I have asked, “What are your specific requirements?”‘ and received the answer: “Well you’re the expert, I’ll let you decide”.

Unfortunately, this is not going to get you what you want!

I have learnt that rather than ‘talking at you’ and explaining all the different options; what patients often need is to be shown something tangible or visual, for me to make suggestions, and then let them decide what it is they want.

As a denture or a dental patient, ASK QUESTIONS! Do not be afraid to point out if something doesn’t feel quite right.
It is YOUR mouth and YOU are in charge when you visit a dental practice, not the dentist or dental professional.

Getting New Dentures- What to Expect During the Process

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new dentures from Care Denture Clinic Cornwall

New dentures- understanding the process

From the time you and Care Denture make the decision that new dentures are right for you to the final fitting may take anywhere from one to six weeks.

During that time you will have several visits for impressions and fittings to ensure that when you finally get your new dentures, they fit and look as best they can.

We hope that by familiarising yourself with the process, you will feel more confident about getting new dentures. And help reduce any lingering anxiety or doubts that you may have.

Communication ,and more importantly listening to you, is key to ensuring we create the best denture for you.

Here’s what you can expect to happen:

Step 1: Taking Impressions 

The first thing we do is to take impressions of your mouth using a putty-like material.

We will also assess how your upper and lower jaws relate to one another and measure the space between them.

Then we perform an ‘intra-oral’ and ‘extra-oral’ examination. This is just a basic health check to see that everything is okay before prescribing a new set of dentures. (We will always refer you back to your dentist or Doctor should you have any health issues you need to address prior to making your new dentures). 

We then cast these impressions in our own dental laboratory, and make a custom tray or trays and the wax occlusal rims (also referred to as bite blocks).

Step 2: Secondary impressions and occlusal registration

We then take a second impression or impressions with the custom-made trays. The wax rims are placed in the mouth and trimmed to the correct height and width.

At this stage we also discuss what will be the best shade and colour for your teeth.

We then cast the second set of impressions in the Lab.  A wax ‘try-in’ is produced, by setting the false teeth and occlusal rims record in wax.

Step 3: Wax ‘try-in’

At your next visit, you will be fitted with the wax ‘try-in’.

Before we finish the dentures in acrylic, we make all the necessary adjustments or corrections. Once we have decided that the wax try-ins are correct, we produce the finished dentures.

Step 4: The Final Fitting of your new dentures

At your final fitting, we will then fit the dentures. We also perform a number of checks to ensure they are correct and not causing any discomfort.

Step 5: Adjustments

After wearing your new dentures for a few days or weeks, you may find they rub or hurt; it is therefore important you return to the clinic to have an adjustment. 

All our new dentures come with an on-going aftercare plan.

See our page on Types of denture and communication for more information.

If you would like to book a free consultation, please contact us. 


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