Introduced in the early 19th century by the goldsmiths who created dental appliances, porcelain teeth were welcomed as the greatest thing since sliced bread (which coincidentally was not invented until the 1920’s.) Before this development, the options available to goldsmiths or barbers (the denturists of their time) was restricted to gold or silver teeth. Porcelain offered the chance to give people a smile that was more natural and didn’t draw attention to the fact that some of their teeth were artificial. Porcelain remained a constant part of denture fabrication well into the 1970s and were even used by some in the 1990s and 2000s. Many of the patients who have worn dentures with porcelain teeth swear by how great they were because of one main reason: porcelain doesn’t wear down, even after decades of use.
So what happened? Why not continue to use something that doesn’t wear down?
Anyone who’s been alive for at least forty years will agree that we now live in a world where products are created, not so much for their durability, but for their ability to be built with cheaper materials, faster shipping, as well as being disposable so that we’ll go out and buy a new one in a short amount of time. Remember when refrigerators lasted fifty years? But porcelain teeth weren’t replaced simply because of newer and cheaper available options.
A world of plastic
With the expansion of plastics used in almost every household and commercial product at the start of the 20th century, new acrylic chemistry was developed for all areas of life, and dentistry benefited greatly. While not impervious to wear like porcelain, acrylic teeth developed in the 1980s were much more resistant to wear, while also providing aesthetics that rivalled the kiln-processed porcelain.
Porcelain proved to be bad a health risk
Acrylic teeth and their newer technology, improved appearance, and lower cost have lead the dental industry since their inception, but it was the impact that porcelain denture teeth had on bone and natural tooth health that was the major factors in its demise. Studies began to show that the force of chewing, provided by the muscles of the jaws, transferred this chewing pressures down onto the teeth from the muscles of each jaw toward the opposing jaw. This transfer of force continues until met with an object that can absorb the force. Because porcelain doesn’t wear, the impact of chewing ended up being transferred to the opposing jaws bone, causing increased bone loss for those who were wearing dentures made with porcelain teeth. Porcelain also caused increased wear of natural teeth because enamel isn’t as strong as porcelain.
So while porcelain materials provided great denture teeth that didn’t wear, the cost was faster bone loss and damage to existing dentitions, meaning that dentures increasingly didn’t fit as well, along with overall poorer bone and tooth health. Fortunately today’s acrylics have advanced even further with the use of composite resins that are now unparalleled to any acrylic or porcelain used in the past. They are able to absorb the forces of chewing while also providing natural looking smiles that can last many, many years.
For more information about denture teeth or the technology behind today’s dentures, feel free to contact one of our six locations at for a free consultation.