What Happens to Our Teeth as We Age?

No one likes growing old. The mind isn’t as sharp as it once was and the body wears out. Not surprising, our teeth are no different. They’ve had to work hard every day. They’ve been used to bite and chew food, made it possible for us to speak and played a part in maintaining our face shape.

Sometimes people neglect their teeth. They may not always brush them at least twice daily, may grind their teeth at night, not visit the dentist regularly and regularly subject their teeth to sugary, acidic and staining foods. It’s no wonder our teeth start to show signs of wear, tear and ageing.

Teeth Not as White

The outer layer of teeth, known as the enamel, is a semi-translucent material that gives your teeth part of their white colour. The next layer, the dentin, varies from off-white to yellow or even grey, and gives teeth the rest of their colour.

With age the yellowish dentin has greater thickness and density. When combined with enamel wear there is a tendency towards a darker tooth. It doesn’t matter how diligent you are with caring for your teeth, it’s impossible to stop the yellowing of teeth over time.

If you’re unhappy with the yellow colour of your teeth, you can try teeth whitening/bleaching which can lighten tooth colour by a few shades. For patients who want to return their teeth to a vibrant white colour, cosmetic dentistry may be the only option.

Teeth Move

As we age, our teeth have a tendency to move towards the front of the mouth. The bottom teeth are more likely to move and become crowded. This crowding can be both an aesthetic and functional problem as it can also change the bite. Most older people don’t take any action due to the time and cost involved. For those who want to improve their smile, they may want to consider orthodontic treatment or cosmetic dentistry. This might include resin or ceramic restoration.

Wear and Tear of Teeth

Decades of eating and drinking take its toll on teeth. The biting surfaces flatten and the protective enamel wears away making teeth at higher risk of suffering a cavity. A large percentage of the adult population also grind their teeth at night which can accelerate wear and tear on teeth.    

More of the Tooth Can Be Seen

Gums naturally recede with age which reveals more of each tooth, making them look longer. This can create a cosmetic and functional problem. The softer exposed root surface is now exposed and this can lead to dental sensitivity and a higher incidence of dental root decay.

Receding gums can also cause problems with bad breath and a bad taste in the mouth. Receding gums creates small spaces where sticky plaque can be difficult to remove, which then creates a cycle of ongoing breakdown. The gum recession cannot be reversed unless you embark on a difficult and unpredictable surgical exercise with a periodontist. While gum recession is a part of the ageing process, it can be made worse by poor dental hygiene. It’s important that older people floss and brush their teeth daily with a soft bristle brush to avoid increasing the risk of gum recession. Once gum recession occurs, it makes it easier for teeth to move around.

When there is pathologic gum disease the treatment of gum recession requires a dentist to provide a deep cleaning procedure called scaling and root planing. This removes the tartar and bacteria from under the gums to halt the disease and recession process.

General Health is Reflected in Oral Health

Oral health is closely tied to general health. If you suffer from diabetes, heart disease or respiratory illness, it’s likely your oral health won’t be as good compared to not having a chronic illness. In the case of diabetes, uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels that supply blood to the gums making them more susceptible to infection and periodontal disease. There is also a link between gum infections causing heart disease so dental hygiene is extremely important in later years. Brushing teeth daily and visiting the dentist every six months can help keep the teeth and body healthy.

Medications Take Their Toll

In our later years, we’re more likely to need to take medications for different ailments. There are hundreds of medications that can have a detrimental impact on oral health. Some cause puffy or overgrown gums but the most common side effect is a dry mouth. The lack of saliva can lead to irritation and infection of oral tissues, difficulties swallowing while eating and bad breath. Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless lollies and increasing water intake can help with a dry mouth.

If you’re concerned about the ageing effects on your teeth, make an appointment to see one of our experienced prosthodontists by calling (08) 9321 1632 or contact us online. We can advise on the best treatment to address your concerns