Getting long in the tooth- what does it really mean for our teeth?

Most of us experience a little discomfort as we age, and although our teeth are amazingly strong, they are not immune to showing signs of wear and tear caused by a lifetime of biting and chewing. Wearing away of the protective enamel coating, shrinking of the gums and flattening of the biting edges are among the most common age-related tooth changes. Another unfortunate truth is that older people also experience higher rates of oral health problems, including decay, cracks, tooth and bone loss. However, there’s much which can be done to prevent tooth problems and retain our natural teeth for as long as possible.


Common age-related tooth changes

Discoloured teeth – Are caused by thinning enamel so the darker coloured dentin, a bone like, yellowish tissue shows through. To minimise staining of your teeth, try drinking tea and coffee though a straw and swishing your mouth with water afterwards, or speak with your dentist about teeth whitening options.

Cracked or broken teeth – these expose the delicate, underlying nerve tissue making it vulnerable and open to infection. As we age, our nerve sensitivity also reduces, so we may not be as aware that there is a problem as when we are younger. Regular dental check-ups help to monitor any changes to the integrity of each tooth so that any problems are diagnosed and treated early.

Dry mouth – A common side effect of many medications is a dry mouth, caused by changes in the amount of (protective) saliva which is produced. Staying well hydrated, breathing through the nose rather than the mouth and even using artificial saliva can be helpful.

Changes in our bite, alignment and position of teeth – As we age, the angle of our jawbone changes which can cause alterations in our ability to bite, chew and even talk. When a tooth is lost, the bony area underneath gradually sinks, and the other teeth can move into that spot. Maintaining the original teeth or replacing lost teeth with implants or bridges can help to prevent unwanted tooth movement.

Periodontal disease – starts with gingivitis or gum inflammation. Left untreated, this can then lead to periodontitis or severe gum disease. Ideally, the gums should fit like a firm collar around each tooth. When pockets form, bacteria and infection can build up. Gum evaluations are also done as part of regular dental checks. Book an appointment today to see if your gums are within the healthy 0-3mm range.

Gum recession – the saying ‘getting long in the tooth’ often refers to gum recession, where the gum becomes swollen, red and recedes. This means the gumline pulls away from the tooth, making it look longer and exposing the sensitive tooth structure (dentin) underneath. Caring well for the gums and teeth helps to ensure the tooth root does not become exposed.


Caring for your teeth at every age

The same rules apply to oral care whatever our age. And although we can’t do much to change the effects of ageing on our teeth, we can reduce the likelihood of cavities and gum disease. Brushing twice each day with a soft, small headed toothbrush, flossing daily, and using a fluoridated toothpaste are key to oral health. Along with regular dental check-ups and professional cleans, fluoride rinses, gels and varnishes may be recommended to prevent decay.  Book an appointment with your dentist to stay on top of your dental health today.

Book an appointment with your dentist

Book your dental appointment

Related articles