Aging is not reserved for facial lines and the graying of hair. As we grow older, every part of our body is affected in some way – including our teeth. With age comes the added responsibility of keeping up with our bodies and making sure that we are doing everything in our power to protect our mouths from some of the detrimental oral effects of aging.
Wear and Tear
Over time, our teeth experience a large amount of wear and tear. Because we use our teeth daily, it is understandable that they wear down as the years advance. As the enamel slowly wears away, it is important that we do our due diligence to help our teeth age as gracefully as possible. By avoiding chewing hard foods (like candies meant to be sucked on or ice), drinking acidic foods through a straw, wearing a nightguard to sleep if we clench our teeth at night, and by avoiding opening packages or bottles with our teeth, we can cut down on the overall wear and tear to our teeth.
One of the leading causes of tooth loss is gum disease. As we age, we are more susceptible to gum disease. Hormones, medications, and certain diseases like diabetes, for example, can all put one at a greater risk of developing gum disease. Because our hormones change as we age (specifically in women going through menopause) and because we are more likely to take an array of medications as we age, our risk for developing gum disease grows.
In addition to affecting our gums, medications can also contribute to dry mouth. When someone experiences dry mouth, they cannot produce the saliva necessary to clean bacteria from the mouth. As we age, drinking more water, cutting back on caffeinated beverages, and utilizing saliva-producing strategies like chewing sugar-free gum become more and more important. Additionally, if a medication is the cause of your dry mouth, consider speaking with your doctor about changing medications.
Loosening and Shifting Teeth
Teeth are more likely to shift as we age, with the two front bottom teeth being the first to typically move. For those who have missing teeth, preventative measures include the application of a bridge or crown to close off the empty space to stop teeth from shifting. For those who have had braces in the past, wearing a retainer at night is beneficial. Of course, one of the best ways to prevent the teeth from shifting is to maintain a proper oral health routine so that your gums stay healthy and strong.
Just as we get laugh lines, our good times can show up on our teeth as well. After years of drinking stain-causing beverages like coffee and red wine, eating certain foods, and/or smoking, our teeth will begin to yellow. Fortunately, unless your tooth is discolored due to an injury, teeth that are yellow or discolored can be fixed with a few lifestyle changes. By drinking water after drinking a substance like coffee, eating more fruits and vegetables, and by seeking out a professional whitening procedure, it is quite easy to “turn back time.”
Sensitivity to Cavities
While there is no age limit on cavities, as we age, we begin to notice them less; this is because the nerves in our teeth become less sensitive with age. Where you may have raced to the dentist after a sharp pain in your 20s, you may not notice that same warning sign in your 60s. Visiting the dentist regularly is crucial to ensure that any cavities are filled before they become larger problems. Further, as we age, old cavities may no longer protect our teeth and will need to be replaced.
Keeping Your Teeth Healthy
Here are a few tips for maintaining healthy teeth as you age:
- Brush and floss daily
- See your dentist every six months
- Eat a nutritious, balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables
- Reduce your sugar intake
- Avoid chewing on hard candies or ice
- Avoid opening packages with your teeth
- Drink more water
- Limit caffeine
- Speak with your doctor about the possible side effects of your medications
- If you are prone to bruxism, wear a night guard while you sleep