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Denture Stomatitis (Mouth Irritation) in the Elderly

Denture Stomatitis (Mouth Irritation) in the ElderlyWhat is denture stomatitis?

Dentures are one of the common oral prosthetics used by seniors to replace missing teeth. Although it assists significantly with chewing and normal speech, dentures can also cause a host of problems in long term users. One of these problems is a condition known as denture stomatitis. The medical term stomatitis means inflammation of the mouth. There are many different causes of stomatitis but denture stomatitis is irritation and inflammation of the tissue of the mouth cavity due to denture use. Understandably it is more common in the elderly and may affect as many as half of all users of complete dentures.

Causes of Denture Stomatitis

There are several possible reasons why denture stomatitis is so common among complete denture users. It is important to remember that it also affects wearers of partial dentures but the incidence is significantly lower.

  • It is known that prolonged use of dentures and particularly nighttime use causes irritation of the soft inner lining of the mouth known as the oral mucosa. This is not uncommon with any prosthetic device that is used for very long hours and especially if it is not removed at night where possible.
  • Repeated trauma to the oral mucosa by the dentures causes alterations in the structure of the tissue over time. Constant contact also may lead to allergic reactions due to the resins or materials used in the denture. Allergic responses trigger inflammation within the oral mucosa.
  • Fungal infections have been recently discovered as one of the main causes of denture stomatitis. It is specifically a type of fungus known as an yeast that has been implicated. The Candida species, and more commonly Candida albicans, the same yeast that causes thrush is the major cause of denture stomatitis.

Symptoms of Denture Stomatitis

A large number of cases of denture stomatitis do not present with any symptoms (asymptomatic) and a person may not be aware of this problem until a doctor notices signs of it. Signs and symptoms denture stomatitis includes :

  • Red and swollen tissue in the mouth, especially the soft palate (this is the main sign)
  • Slight bleeding from the affected site.
  • Yellow to white spots at the affected area indicating a fungal infection.
  • Burning sensation at the affected site.
  • Strange sensation in the mouth similar to severe mouth dryness.
  • Abnormal bad taste sensations.

Although redness and swelling of the affected area is a common symptom, in most cases there is no accompanying tenderness, burning or pain reported by the person. Most of the other symptoms as well are not experienced by every person with denture stomatitis.

Treatment of Denture Stomatitis

The first approach to treatment is to ensure the proper fit of the denture, appropriate denture use as indicated by a dental professional and proper cleaning of the dentures. A person with HIV/AIDS, hypothyroidism, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus and malnutrition may have a weakened immune system that predisposes to the development of denture stomatitis. Therefore these conditions need to be treated and managed accordingly.

There is a risk of developing a condition known as inflammatory papillary hyperplasia (IPEH) in chronic or severe denture stomatitis. IPEH is an overgrowth of the tissue in the mouth cavity as a result of chronic irritation. This condition carries its own risks but mainly complicates the treatment of denture stomatitis. Therefore it is crucial to institute the proper treatment for denture stomatitis as soon as possible.

Treatment of denture stomatitis involves soaking the dentures in strong antiseptic solutions that are not commonly used for denture care. These solutions will destroy any fungi on the surface of the denture and prevent any future growth. Antifungal ointments and gels that are suitable for use in the mouth may also be applied to the affected area and coated over the denture prior to use. Surgery is not necessary for denture stomatitis treatment unless there is inflammatory papillary hyperplasia (IPEH) where the excess tissue needs to be removed.


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