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September 8, 2010 at 8:00 PMComments: 1 Faves: 0

How Our Teeth Change with Age

By Jeany Miller More Blogs by This Author

Just as muscles, bones and skin all age, so too do teeth. This is not surprising given the enormous amount of work they do every day. What does come as a surprise is that much of the aging attributed to teeth results from human wear and tear. Teeth are, for the most part, resistant to cracks and chips. According to Steven E. Schonfeld, a dentists and spokesperson for the American Dental Association, "Contrary to what many people assume, teeth do not become more brittle with age." Instead, activities like biting on a cherry pit or chewing ice cause teeth to crack. Moreover, weakened cavity fillings, tooth decay and gum disease all become more prevalent with age. Sugary and acidic foods also contribute to the break-down of adult teeth. In short, improper diet and a lack of dental care both contribute to the way teeth change with age.

Tooth Decay and Plaque Build-Up

One of the primary problems faced by persons nearing middle age regards fillings. For example, silver fillings are likely to crack and chip with age. Such spaces and openings can quickly fill with bacteria. Gold fillings may acquire decay around their edges as well. Individuals with more fillings are also candidates for more cracks and chips. This is because teeth with root canals and fillings are less structurally sound than whole teeth. As teeth crack and chip, they lose resiliency. Acid erosion caused by sugary foods also contributes to this condition. Sugars and starches contain carbohydrates that ferment in the mouth. Bacteria then ensue, causing the mouth to produce combative acids. Those acids erode the enamel of teeth and create tiny pits where decay can occur. Each of these processes occurs over time, particularly at middle-age. In addition to decay, plaque also quickly establishes itself on adult teeth. This is a colorless and sticky bacterium that promotes tooth decay. Plaque bacteria feed on sugar and then produce acids that lead to cavities, gum disease and periodontal disease. Older adult are susceptible to plaque for two reasons: first, a person's mouth becomes drier with age. In some cases, this is the result of certain medications or autoimmune diseases. As saliva helps remove food particles from the mouth, a decrease of this secretion leads to food build-up. In turn, tooth decay grows. Second, adults also commonly experience receding gums, which serve to expose the roots of a tooth. That soft root surface can decay much more quickly than the hard enamel that normally surrounds teeth.

Appearance of Teeth

The appearance of teeth changes over time just as oral health does. Stains that result from foods and beverages can discolor teeth. Such common drinks as red wine, coffee and tea all cause teeth to turn from white to yellow. While this is usually a cosmetic issue, stains tend to form where plaque exists. According to dentists, organic build-up largely contributes to discoloration. It is thus important to remove plaque for the return of a more vibrant smile. According to Dr. Thomas Gibbs, DDS, teeth also dramatically change positions as a person ages. Fewer than 10 percent of all people have teeth in the same position in their fifties as they did in their twenties. Back and middle teeth often move forward and crowd front teeth. In the event of bone loss or gum disease, teeth are likely to shift outward and create gaps. Such shifting can create a loss of bone support in the mouth, thereby causing cheeks to appear sunken as well.

Preventive Measures for Healthy Teeth

While seeing the dentist for regular check-ups comes highly recommended for oral health, other steps can also prevent age-related problems. These include reducing the amount of sugary foods that are eaten and limiting carbonated beverages. Persons should also avoid chewing very hard foods as well as those associated with teeth stains. Finally, brushing twice a day, regular flossing and the use of a mouthwash all help to deter from plaque build-up and tooth decay. When a sweet craving arises, dentists advise chewing a sugar-free gum to help promote saliva and wash away bacteria.


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1 Comment

  • for years I've known or heard that chewing a piece of gum after lunch is suppose to be good for your teeth - it sounds like this blog agrees with what Trident has been promoting!

    Also I might add, swishing with peroxide will help whiten your teeth. Don't swallow, just swish for 5-10 minutes or about the time it takes in the shower every morning. Even my dentist noticed and commented to me that my teeth looked whiter.

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