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Healthy Aging

Your Aging Teeth

By Sheryl Kraft

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A while back, I received an email from a reader who was bemoaning the condition of her teeth since entering the "M" phase of life: Menopause. She wrote: "I would like to know if perimenopause affects your teeth. Mine are just falling apart on me suddenly."

I'm afraid this type of question will be a perennial one, because at some point, we're all—if we're fortunate—visitors passing through this time when so many changes are sneaking up on us.

There are a couple of choice words I have for teeth and aging. (And then, of course, there are a couple more that I can't publish here.)

Time and Teeth

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I recently spoke with Michael Apa, DDS, partner in the Rosenthal Apa Group in New York City.

"Your teeth start to age early on," he said. Over time, your teeth shift and you lose bone, which makes your gums recede. What's next? Women in their 40s and 50s will start to see a change in their appearance; their top teeth will look "shorter," and they'll show more of the bottom teeth.

Speaking of bottom teeth, Dr. Apa points out that those two front lower teeth (aka the lower anterior teeth) are the first to start to shift—as early as in your mid-20s. Because of the increasing pressures on your teeth—whether it is through normal wear and tear or additional forces (more on that below)—what was once balanced through Mother Nature or orthodontia is now going through a rebellion, so to speak.

As your lower teeth shift, they hit your upper front teeth when you're grinding or chewing, which in turn may start to shift and wear away, Dr. Apa explains. "If you're hard on your teeth, you'll get a worn edge on a front tooth, or one tooth will start to push forward."

Stress and Teeth

Sure, everyone feels stress (if you don't, please share your secrets), but perimenopause and menopause likely gifts you with more than the average amount. That's when so many emotionally challenging life events collide: sleep problems, the empty nest, aging parents, the changing nature of marriages and other relationships, weight gain, energy drain … need I go on?

And although you might think you're handling it like a champ during those long challenging days, odds are high that a lot of that stress will go to your jaw, which will clench and spasm, grind and gnash. At the same time, you're putting a lot of pressure on your back teeth. Those molars take the brunt of the force, and your back teeth start to fall inward, says Dr. Apa.

Tooth grinding, also known as bruxism, makes no secret of what it can do to your mouth and surrounding areas: its signs and symptoms include worn, flattened, fractured or chipped teeth, worn tooth enamel, increased tooth sensitivity, headache, earache and chronic facial pain.

And then, I wanted to say …

"Dr. Apa, thanks so much for the interview, but this is all so depressing and makes me feel like I just want to curl up and forget I ever talked to you. So I'm hanging up now."

But this is what I really said …

"Tell me more. With all these strikes against us, how can we preserve our teeth? I know you do fabulous restoration work with veneers, crowns and the like. I know you look at the whole face, not just the mouth, to figure out how to balance out facial features that are affected by the structure of our teeth. You explained to me that most of us favor one side over the other when we chew, and this builds up the musculature on one side of the face over the other, making one half of the face 'overpronounced.' Really good aesthetic dentistry, you said, figures out where those strong and weak sides are and figures out a new position for your teeth to counterbalance those asymmetries."

But what if someone can't afford cosmetic dentistry?

The best way to control aging teeth and subsequent problems is with prevention. Sounds obvious, but it's true.

Dr. Apa's Tips for Preserving What You Already Have

  • Since most people don't brush their teeth effectively, use an electric toothbrush. This puts more control into the hands of the user.
  • If you wear braces, wear a retainer after the braces are removed. Teeth will always want to move back to their original position based on your musculature. Rather than fit you for a retainer, some orthodontists will bond a metal wire onto the backs of your upper or lower front teeth.
  • Practice good personal oral hygiene. That means brushing for two minutes after every meal and flossing and rinsing twice a day.
  • Talk to your dentist about your specific problems to figure out the right product for you. There are so many types of products and so many types of patients. Over-the-counter products can help, but they can also hurt. There are toothpastes that lighten, toothpastes for sensitive teeth, toothpastes for heavy stainers and more. No longer can you rely on a one-size-fits-all solution for oral care.
  • Consider increasing your number of professional in-office cleanings to twice or three times a year. As gums recede, there's a larger area where food particles can get stuck. In turn, more plaque forms and the rate of decay can increase.
  • If you have restorations like fillings, veneers or crowns, have them checked periodically. They do not last a lifetime—their average life span is seven years.
  • Get fitted for a night guard. Anyone who has stress in their lives (and who doesn't?) will tend to clench or grind their teeth in their sleep.

You might also want to read:

Your Teeth: New and Improved

Oral Health

Comments

What about yellowing teeth? Are whitening products good for aging teeth? I have a friend who is almost 70, with yellowing teeth. With so many affordable whitening products out there, it makes me wonder why she's not being proactive.

I've always had excellent teeth, but as I approach 50 I'm starting to see my gums receding.

Thanks for all this great info. It's crazy that even your teeth change as you get older!

I'm afraid everything changes as we get older. But...we must EMBRACE the changes, right? I'm trying :)

Seven years! Yikes. I thought crowns were good for 40. Something you did not mention which I have always wondered about ... I had my kids in my early 20s and I felt I lost at least one tooth, ie. had to be replaced with a crown, with every pregnancy. I was wondering whether this theory has any basis. Also, periodontal disease. I got that after having Lyme. I know to have the extra cleanings due to my periodontist.

Those are all such good questions, Alexandra. I'd like to follow this post up with another and hope to be able to gather some answers.

I wonder about products to whiten teeth also as my teeth are yellowing. Of course back when nobody whitened their teeth, I looked normal. But now my yellowing teeth are very noticeable. I'm concerned about the damages of whitening teeth. Any tips?

Oh, good lord. I would say aging teeth are yet another indignity -- but, really, they're more. More expensive and more painful.

Yes, Ruth, agreed. Expensive, painful and so so time-consuming!

My teeth recently just started falling apart - like, just cracking off willy-nilly. It's so bizarre! But I'm in that M stage. Thanks for the tips.

That's so disturbing, Jane. I hope you can get those cracked teeth taken care of before they get worse!

Thank you and thanks for reading!

My dental insurance won't replace my bridge until is it more than 8 years old. IF the average life span is seven years, why do insurance company's make you wait 8 or more years?

I share your frustration. Dental insurance is so tricky, and rarely covers everything you need or what your dentist says you need.

I'm 47 years old and have never had a cavity in my life. I will be crushed if my teeth fall apart on me. I used to do a really good job of flossing, but have fallen off the wagon recently. This is a good reminder to get back on track.

I have a couple of whitening tips I swear by:
After coffee or tea I brush with hot water
Forgo orange juice, the acid and color yellows
Eat lots of strawberries, the enzymes whiten

Hi Kim, Nice to see you here! You are so very lucky. I think so much of it is genetic. Do good teeth run in your family? (Sadly, it doesn't run in mine.) Thank you for so generously sharing your tips; I think everyone could benefit from them ~

Ah, man! My teeth are getting "old" too?

'fraid so, Roxanne.

This is good information. We've spent a fortune on our teeth the past four years and it seems never ending.

Thank you so much for providing us such type of helpful material which will be useful to me as well...others who suffering from this issues...

There are numerous over the counter teeth whitening options for removing the staining on the outer surface of the teeth. Alternatively you can have your teeth bleached by a dental professional.

Teeth start to yellow as we get older because the underlying dentin layer begins to show through the outer layer (enamel) as it becomes thinner with age.

Just one more thing to look forward too as we get older!

John Sutcliffe - BrushMarks

You are right. Underlying dentin layer begins to show through enamel. Most whitening products can make a thin enamel even thinner, and you can calculate the result.

Stay away from teeth bleaching agents. Remember, your permanent teeth are the only ones you have.

Doctor Matt, toothbrush doctor.

This is a great article about sleep and restricted airways in women which can lead to tooth grinding - grinding is nature's way of opening up our airways whilst sleeping. Treat this and the grinding stops. Mouth guards are not suitable as they don't open the airway. Sleep apnea is more prevalent in women than we realised. Stress is less likely a factor in grinding.

http://askthedentist.com/sleep-apnea-in-women/

Teeth do get weak with aging. This can be avoided by following best practices of oral health.

Thanks for sharing, Sheryl.

All really great advice some things I haven't tried already.

Cynthia from Varicoseveinstalk.com

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