DISCLOSURE: Noelle Copeland RDH is the oral care specialist and dental consultant to the Brilliant and Baby Buddy oral care lines through Compac Industries. See terms below.
As we age, so do our teeth, and over time, just like our bodies, our teeth can become less stable and not as strong as they were during our younger years. There are lots of things you can do to keep your teeth as healthy as possible and intact over your lifetime and the easiest way to do that is to take care of them.
The healthier your teeth and gums are, the longer you can plan on keeping them and using them to the best of their ability as you age. You are truly blessed if you get to journey through life into your 70s, 80s, 90s, or beyond, whether you have all of your natural teeth or you don’t – the life you get to live is priceless.
But as we all know…. Some of the negative or not so loved effects of aging can begin to show as early as your 40s, and teeth are really no different in this aspect than the rest of the body. Even when you take really good care of them, they wear down and show aging just like wrinkles and grey hair does. So what are some of the effects that aging can have on your mouth and teeth, which you could reasonably expect to see as you gracefully age into the future?
Wear, Tear, and Trauma
It goes without saying that the longer you have “something”, the more likely it is that that “something” might break or need repair from being used.
Here are just a few examples of ways your teeth can be worn down, broken or injured as you age:
- Using your teeth as tools.
- Gingivitis and periodontal disease.
- Bruxing and Grinding.. Anxiety and Stress.
- Chewing ice and other hard items like candy.
- Smoking, chewing tobacco, consuming foods/drinks that stain like wine/coffee/tea.
- Medications and medical treatments.
All of these things affect the normal wear and tear that your teeth will go through in a lifetime. Once you start to lose natural tooth structure, or the bone support and vital tissue attachment, you can experience pain and sensitivity and even lose teeth permanently to irreversible damage.
Using your teeth as tools
My husband always jokes on me that I would NOT be the “Tool Maker” in whatever fictitious village scenario I could have possibly been born into where jobs would have been assigned to the most capable person(s). His reasoning is my misuse of the tools I do have access to, present day.
This is his way of poking fun at me in a playful way but I don’t think I’m so much different from everyone else.
How many times have you…
- Ripped open a bag of something with your teeth, instead of getting some scissors?
- Tried to bite open a container that just wouldn’t give way to your grip strength?
- Bit a tag off a new clothing item, verses cutting it off?
- Bitten your nails?
- Oral Habits that involve chewing non food items like pen caps or pencils, fabric, and even plastic items?
- Used your mouth as an extra set of hands by holding something between your teeth? A folder, maybe a book or the strap of a bag!
Can I just be vulnerable and share that my once 7 year old BIT our IPAD and shattered the screen because it wouldn’t turn on….fast enough. It goes without saying that we had a major conversation about this and all electronics were swiftly taken away. But it just goes to show that we inherently and subconsciously think of our teeth and our bite as something that is powerful and can be used as an interim tool, which technically, for survival, it can be, and if we were in a different time frame or situation than we are now, where we lived in caves or on a deserted island, this would be totally acceptable.
However for today, lets just say that you should refrain from using your teeth like a caveman would. Especially if you want them to last for your lifetime.
Trauma to the mouth and teeth are almost inevitable, at some point in our lifetime. I’m 42 years old and I suffered my first mouth trauma injury just 2 years ago. I took a “hot-potato-football-launched” remote control to the face and it busted my lip and my 2 front teeth. That was fun! Luckily, I had a few dental pros on speed dial and was able to address it quickly.
Mouth trauma forever alters the natural structure of the teeth and bones. Even with the best reconstructive care, it is still a procedure that attempts to recreate what was there naturally. Mouth trauma does weaken the natural teeth and over time, the “repair materials”, have to be replaced and sometimes upgraded to more costly procedures.
Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease
It’s my professional opinion that nothing shows age more in someone’s smile than the repercussions of unaddressed periodontal disease or gingivitis.
How Mouth Disease shows age
- Periodontal disease causes bone recession and gum recession that can be seen when someone smiles.
- Gaps can form between teeth with dark triangular spacing at the gumline. This indicates some form of gum recession has occurred likely due to disease and foretells someone’s age.
- Red and inflamed gum tissues that bleed easily look sickly and unhealthy.
- Bad breath or halitosis.
- Yellowing teeth from the accumulation of tartar build up.
Bruxing, Grinding, Anxiety and Stress
I would say most people don’t realize they grind or clench their teeth until a dental professional starts asking questions. Grinding and clenching your teeth at times other than when you are eating, will fast track the reduction of natural tooth anatomy that should happen over decades. A dental professional can see this rapidly changing pattern of excessive wear on your teeth when they look into your mouth.
It is all too common for someone to be completely unaware of the effects that anxiety and stress can have on their teeth. Someone may be aware that they wake up with a little pain in their jaw or temples several times a week, or that at specific points during the day they may have headaches or feelings of tension.
However, they may not recognize that it’s coming from their teeth or more specifically, the muscle contractions from clenching and grinding and the side effects that it causes.
Chewing hard items
Any time you chew hard candies or things like ice cubes on a regular basis you run the risk of causing more micro cracks and fractures in the teeth that can widen and grow bigger over time. So don’t chew hard items like that, and break the habit of oral fixations that lead to chewing on non food items like pen caps, fabric, pencils, or plastic items.
Medications and Medical Treatments
The older we get, the more likely it is that we will have some sort of medical procedure or need some sort of daily medication.
A common cause of oral disease in older adults is dry mouth. Saliva is vitally important to oral health. Saliva contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and proteins that help protect teeth and gums by lubricating the mouth, enhancing digestion, washing away food debris, regulating the acid balance of the mouth, and mineralizing the teeth. Dry mouth can also be caused by the physical changes the body goes through as it ages.
Consequently, the most common “side effect” of over 500 frequently prescribed medications is “Dry Mouth”. According to a survey done by the AARP, nearly 75% of older adults take at least one prescription drug. That makes oral disease a high risk factor for older adults. https://www.aarp.org/
For Dry Mouth:
- Drink more water, keep a water bottle with you and sip it regularly
- Use OTC oral moisturizers frequently, especially ones that contain xylitol.
- Avoid alcohol containing products, alcohol can be drying to the tissues.
- STOP using tobacco in all forms. Tobacco and the other harmful ingredients added to it, can lead to adverse oral effects, including recession, impaired wound or post surgical healing, oral cancer, mucosal lesions (oral leukoplakia, nicotine stomatitis), & periodontal disease.
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Noelle Copeland RDH is an Oral Care Specialist and Dental Consultant who provides content for Brilliant Oral Care and Baby Buddy.