Is My Smile Aging, Too?

My godmother was thrilled when she chipped her front teeth. After the initial shock of having tripped on cracked pavement in a restaurant parking lot, she said, “Now I can have my smile back!” I didn’t understand what she meant until she explained while sitting in my dental chair.

“My teeth were getting shorter and I didn’t feel I looked like me anymore. They’re also yellower than they used to be.” They weren’t the teeth of her younger days. When she smiled into the mirror, it wasn’t the smile she wanted to see.

As a dentist that works on mouths of all ages, I understood.

Teeth serve as the foundation for the rest of the face

Over time, normal chewing patterns, as well as grinding and/or clenching when asleep or stressed, change the way our teeth look. They begin to wear, discolor, and become brittle, potentially showing vertical lines in them. Common medications, including those that address high blood pressure, allergies, depression, and osteoporosis can cause oral problems like dry mouth, which increases the risk of tooth decay. Unfortunately, normal aging can usher in new risks to oral health, even when no other health problems are involved.

The good news is there are ways to help improve and counteract these changes. For example, chase a mug of tea with a glass of water every time to help prevent oral dryness and eventual staining. Tea is the number one cause of stain, and it doesn’t matter if it is hot, cold, sweet, earl grey, breakfast tea, green or black. All teas have tanins in them which permeate into tooth enamel. One of the reasons why is because teas are dehydrators. This is also true and works with hot or iced coffee.

Studies show that up to 85% of us grind during REM sleep

Researchers think grinding our teeth is a passive way of acting out our dreams. However, stress can continue the grinding during the night. A way to prevent shortening and flattening our teeth is wearing a mouthguard at night. As a dentist, I can honestly say that there are some decent ones on Amazon or at a local drugstore. These simple guards will help determine if there is excessive grinding. You may have to upgrade to a custom made one from a dental office, but the stock “boil and bite” guards will show grinding or clenching marks in them if there is uncertainty.

The active ingredient in ALL whitening products, whether they are on a store shelf, online, or at a dental office is Hydrogen Peroxide. The FDA regulates OTC whitening products to be 5% Hydrogen Peroxide or less. Most dental offices have whitening products that are 9% and higher. One simple way to help gradually whiten teeth is using a formula of 1 part OTC 3% Hydrogen Peroxide to 2 parts water. This is safe and effective to rinse with after brushing twice a day. Heavy tea and coffee drinkers will not see as good results, though, and will have to use a product with a higher concentration to get ahead of the staining properties both tea and coffee have.

The third most common issue is dry mouth

Saliva will change either in quantity or quality at some point so it is a good idea to discuss this condition with a dentist. Besides drinking flat water throughout the day, my go-to OTC products are ACT Dry Mouth Fluoride mouthwash and Biotene products. All Biotene products are swallowable, which help decrease and prevent dry throat. Both are safe and effective to use continuously, as well as their sugar-free lozenges and sprays. In fact, they have additive effects, meaning the more often they are used, the better they work. Finally, chew sugarless gum, preferably one that has xylitol. It stimulates the salivary glands to produce saliva, which not only prevents cavities but also has a lubricating property that stops stains from setting in.

Don’t forget to see a dentist at least twice a year to check for cavities and gum disease

Protection and prevention will help keep smiles looking their best. My godmother was pleasantly surprised when we delivered her new restorations. She felt comfortable with the brightened shade, as well as the teeth length. She felt like herself again. Her teeth now felt familiar. I totally agreed; they looked just like they did in all of her pictures and as I saw her. She left my office confidently smiling.

Take good care of your mouth and your teeth won’t give your age away!