• Aging and Your Teeth

  • As we get older, our teeth get older too. Doesn’t that make sense? Our teeth are not immune from disease, wear, and fracture. Sounds just like every other part of our body, right? Well, that’s because they are part of our body!

    The expression ‘getting long in the tooth’ is not inaccurate. As we age, our gums naturally recede, due to lack of elasticity and also in response to inflammation and/or infection. Dental work, designed to save and protect the teeth, can never duplicate the edges of mother nature, and this is also a cause of some minor gum recession at times. Local irritations, lack of proper home care, lack of cleaning with floss between the teeth, and not frequent enough dental cleanings can all contribute to this. As a matter of fact, most of the time when your teeth are sensitive to cold water or cold air, it is because the gums have receded, and the root surface is exposed. It can take less than one millimeter of recession to result in symptoms. Our roots are more porous than the crowns of our teeth, and therefore the cold is closer to the nerve inside. Our teeth actually look longer, because too much of the tooth is showing, being no longer covered with gum tissue.

    For a few of us, there are no fillings or dental work in our mouths. For the vast majority, however, this is not the case. Dental fillings, crowns, root canals, basically everything your dentist does in your mouth is in order to promote dental health. The dentist’s mission in life is to stop dental disease and promote dental health. However, once we have a filling, if we get additional decay in that tooth, the filling is only going to grow. Eventually, the tooth is more filling than tooth, and a crown is needed. At any point along this trajectory, the nerve inside the tooth and root can become ill or die. This is in response to the infection of decay, the insult of the drill, or for actually no reason whatsoever. This breakdown of the tooth structure and nerve inside the tooth and root is also a product of aging. The longer our tooth is in our mouth, the more the odds that at some point it will have decay, or be the victim of fracture or some other insult.

    Cavemen didn’t live long enough to lose their teeth, but research has shown that they must have had a very coarse diet. Their teeth were extremely worn down. Because we are living nearly a century, our teeth are outliving their life expectancy by far. The stress of living in today’s world also causes many of us to gnash our teeth while we are asleep, as our brains do their best to sort through the myriad of experiences we have in a day. If we do things like clench during the day, grind our teeth at night, and chew on ice cubes, we are going to cause our teeth to age prematurely. Shorter teeth, which have lost their ‘hills and valleys’, and are flat as mesas, are another symptom of aging teeth.

    Sometimes, your dentist needs to pull a tooth because it’s just too far gone to save. This can be due to fracture, extensive decay, severe trauma, abscess, or for many other reasons. This is not a happy event for anyone. Sometimes it is the only correct answer, however. Once a tooth is pulled, unless a dental implant is placed, the jawbone associated with that tooth begins to go away. It simply has no reason to be there. This loss of jawbone is yet another way our teeth and dentition can age. The teeth behind the missing tooth can drift haphazardly into that open space. If the lost tooth or teeth are in front, our lip appears to collapse, due to lack of proper support. All of these scenarios result in us looking more elderly.

    Aging is a natural process, and it isn’t a bad thing. Hopefully we all get to age for a long time, and enjoy a long life. While we’re alive, it’s wonderful to have teeth. They help us grind up our food for proper nutrition, they make our smiles look good, and they deserve recognition for (usually) outlasting us. The best thing to do to help your teeth age gracefully is the same as for every other body part. You must care for your teeth. They need your attention. Keep them immaculately clean. See your dentist regularly. Practice preventive measures and your teeth will not let you down!