Aging and Your Teeth
Our teeth are just like any other part of the body. As we age, changes occur that have us wondering when things happened. When did all these gray hairs appear? When did I start losing muscle mass? When did activities that were so easy to perform when I was young become so demanding? The reality is that these changes occur incrementally over time and often go undetected until much later.
Did you know that it is natural for tooth colour to change as we age? If you find yourself staring up at the long drug store isles of tooth whitening products wondering where you went wrong – rest assured. As we age, the enamel of our teeth can thin gradually over time. Since enamel is not an opaque white substance, its partial transparency allows the inside of the tooth to show more over time.
To understand how this works, we should consider the layers of the teeth. The enamel is the hard layer of protection that encases the tooth. Enamel works hard to protect our teeth from the effects of acid and bacteria. It provides much of the strength we need to be able to crunch down on carrots or munch our movie popcorn. But beneath the hard enamel we find another substance called dentin. Dentin is what much of the tooth is made from and serves as a container for the pulp and nerve inside the tooth. Dentin is not as hard as enamel, and it is more yellow. As our enamel thins, it becomes easier to see the inside of the tooth and it can give the illusion of discolouration. What can you do? Be kind to your enamel. Don’t allow your teeth to be exposed to acids over long periods of time and ensure that you are using gentle brushing techniques as part of your oral care routine.
Do you find your teeth to be more sensitive as you age, despite not having changed your care routine or eating habits? Gum recession may be the culprit. The dentin that forms the inner structure of the tooth and root is protected by enamel, but not over the entire surface area of the tooth. Enamel is only present over the part of the tooth and extends roughly to the point at which the tooth meets the gum.
Since enamel’s primary responsibility is to protect the teeth from the elements, it makes sense that without that enamel present teeth can be far more sensitive and intolerant to stimulus. While it might feel good to scrub your teeth like you scrub your dishes, the truth is that hard brushing will not make your teeth any cleaner – but it will contribute to gum recession over time. Brushing too hard not only wears the enamel out over time, it can also push back the soft tissues (your gums) from the collars of the teeth like you would push back a cuticle. The trouble is, when gums are pushed back, dentin is exposed and with it comes increased sensitivity.
The best thing you can do is learn to establish a gentle brushing habit. If you are already experiencing sensitivity, your dentist can recommend a sensitive toothpaste to use, or they may have a desensitizing treatment to offer. If sensitive teeth are a concern to you, don’t reach for whitening products. They are likely to significantly increase your discomfort.
Staining of the teeth is another concern that can creep up over time. This is because the habits that we have, such as drinking several cups of coffee daily, have a cumulative effect on the teeth over time. This can be mitigated with regular professional cleaning, but to put a stop to the staining it’s likely that you’ll have to make some changes to avoid the offending food and drink.
Children and young adults often have the brightest smiles of all the demographics – because they haven’t started engaging in the habits that contribute to discolouration. If you have a coffee habit, a soda habit or if you are a habitual smoker, it’s unlikely that your teeth will maintain their bright colour. Coffee and teas are highly coloured, and also highly acidic. This means that while the acid goes to work attacking your enamel, colourants are waiting to deposit stains on the teeth wherever they can. A similar dynamic exists with sodas and alcohol. Highly acidic properties go to work attacking the teeth while colourants deposit colour. What’s worse in sodas, however, is the high concentration of sugar. Sugars are consumed by bacteria in the mouth, and the same bacteria excrete acid into the mouth as a result.
You can mitigate the effects of these beverages on your teeth by consuming them quickly with a meal rather than sipping on them throughout the day. The food will help to balance the pH of the beverages, and acids and strainers can be more easily flushed out of the mouth along with the food. Too hard to curb your coffee habit? Consider putting your morning beverage on ice and consuming it through a straw. This limits the staining power of the coffee, since it won’t have a chance to sit on the teeth.