How Teeth Change With Age

As you get older, everyday wear and tear takes a toll on your teeth. But there's plenty you can do to keep them in great shape. Follow these rules and you’ll have lots to smile about as the birthday candles pile up on your cake.

Cut Down Wear and Tear

Your teeth are crazy strong. Still, they can be worn down. All that chewing, grinding, and biting wears away the enamel -- that hard, outer layer of your teeth. It also flattens the parts you use when you bite and chew.

You can't erase a lifetime of wear and tear, without having it restored by a dentist, but you can keep it from getting worse. Don't chew ice or other hard foods. That can cause chips in your enamel and even broken teeth.

Teeth can also be worn down by a poor bite, which may require orthodontic work, and nighttime grinding (bruxism), which may require wearing a night guard. Talk to your dentist.

Keep Your Gums Healthy

Bacteria, called plaque is always forming on your teeth. If you don't remove it, it can cause soreness, swelling, and bleeding in your gums. It can even cause infections that damage the bone underneath.

Your dentist will treat gum disease, called periodontitis. If you let it go unchecked, it could harm your gums and bones. Once that happens, you may need to have teeth removed.

Signs of gum disease include:

  • Bleeding when you brush your teeth
  • Gums that recede, or pull back from your teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Bad breath

The best way to keep your gums in good shape is to take good care of your teeth. Brush twice a day and floss every day. See your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings. If you smoke, quit.

Don’t Let Your Mouth Dry Out

Saliva helps clean teeth and protects your mouth from decay. But as you get older, your mouth gets drier and your odds of tooth decay go up. Your medication could be to blame. Lots of drugs dry you out. To fight back, drink more water. Hold it in your mouth for a few seconds before you swallow. You can also suck on sugarless candy or chew sugarless gum. If you think drugs are the cause, talk to your doctor about changing them.

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Be Kind to Sensitive Teeth

Worn enamel, gum problems, and tooth decay can all make your teeth more sensitive. It can hurt when you drink something hot or cold or even when you brush your teeth a little too hard.

Good dental care is the best prevention. Brush, floss, and see your dentist regularly. If you have sensitive teeth, your dentist can recommend a toothpaste or in-office treatment that will make you more comfortable.

Look Out for Acid

Fizzy drinks and citrus fruits and juices all contain acid. Sugary and starchy foods cause your mouth to make acid. Each wears away the enamel on your teeth.

Don't swish these drinks around in your mouth. Follow it up with milk or cheese to "cancel out" the acid. Eat sugary and starchy foods with your main meals, not as snacks. That's when your mouth makes the most saliva to help wash acid away

Be on the Lookout for Cancer

As you age, there's a small chance you could develop cancer of your mouth, throat, tongue, or lips. The best way to prevent this is to stop smoking and drink alcohol only in moderation. Use lip balm with sunscreen whenever you go outside.

Pain isn't a symptom early on, so you need to see your dentist regularly for checkups. He can look for any problems and treat them early. Warning signs may include sores, red or white patches, and any long-lasting changes in your mouth.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on January 17, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Dental Association: "Adults Over 60: Concerns" and "Sensitive Teeth: Causes and Treatment."

British Dental Health Foundation: "Dental care for older people."

Columbia University, Go Ask Alice: "The cold, hard truth: Chewing ice and teeth."

Harvard Health Publications: "The aging mouth -- and how to keep it younger."

Health in Aging: "Eldercare at Home: Dental Problems."

National Institute on Aging: "Taking Care of Your Teeth and Mouth."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "The Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth."

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