When Nelson Neudorf started in the denture business 15 years ago, there was a concern it could be a dying profession.
Advances in dental health, the theory went, would make dentures obsolete and put denturists out of work. It hasn't worked out that way, if anything Neudorf said business has been picking up in recent years.
"This day in age you'd think tooth loss would be a thing of the past, but it's not," he said.
He attributes the growth to the aging population, not poor oral hygiene, but said the number of denture wearers is expected to increase for at least another 10 years.
With dentures running upwards of $1,000 per set, and some people needing two at a time, it can quickly become a prohibitive expense for people who don't have group benefit insurance.
The Prince George Council of Seniors has a program to help cover some of the costs associated with dentures for those on fixed incomes. With just $10,000 to $15,000 a year to work with, however, they can only help about one third of the people who ask for aid and just as at Neudorf's clinic, the demand is growing each year.
"We're lucky if we help 12-15 seniors and that would be partial payment for some of them, it wouldn't be the full amount," said Lola-Dawn Fennell, manager of the council.
The program started in 2004 as a partnership between the seniors' council and the Prince George Construction Association and a handful of other sponsors have come on board over the years. However, Fennell said more partnerships are needed to help all of those who can't afford their own dentures.
She said dentures can play a big role in giving people the confidence to get out in the community and stay active socially, which has both mental and physical health benefits.
"If you have no teeth or the few teeth you have in your mouth are rotten or if you have dentures that fit really, really poorly, it affects your speech and consequently people may be lacking the self-confidence to go out in public to do anything social," she said. "To eat out, or anything like that, it's horrifying for somebody in that situation."
Neudorf said there's a stigma attached to having no teeth and that clients often want to get their dentures fitted quickly, although it takes a few weeks after a patients teeth are removed for their gums to heal.
One of the biggest challenges for patients getting used to their new set of teeth is how they react to different types of food.
"It's not an easy thing getting a denture," Neudorf said. "It's a prosthetic. It's like if you lost your leg, you don't get your (prosthetic) leg and go dancing that night, it takes time, patience and repeat visits to make sure it's perfect."
Neudorf said the "vast majority" of his clients are over 65 years old, but some people who need dentures are in their 20s. About 3 million Canadians have dentures of one form or another.
Fennell said the senior's council has also noticed a rise in the number of seniors in the community needing financial assistance, especially in the 55-65 age demographic and she worried about what will happen when those people need denture.
Her advice for those approaching retirement is to get their dental work done while they still have adequate coverage.
"If you're not 65, I would highly recommend you do everything that you can to take care of your teeth before you hit that point," she said.