How Teeth Change With Age
With all of the wear and tear that our teeth go through it is amazing that our teeth are surprisingly so resilient. As with time, the everyday wear and tear and the natural aging process can take a toll. Below are some examples of what can happen to teeth that as we age — and what you can do to keep your teeth strong and healthy for a lifetime.
Preventing Acid Erosion
By far the biggest threat to teeth is sugary and starchy food. These carbohydrates ferment, causing the bacteria in the mouth to produce acids. Those acids can quickly eat away at the enamel of teeth. As a result, this creates tiny pits where tooth decay can form. Most of us assume that sugary candy is the worst offender. But sweetened carbonated beverages, such as colas, can be even more dangerous, since carbonation increases acid levels in our mouths.
- Limit intake of sugary foods, especially carbonated soft drinks and sports drinks.
- Avoid frequent snacking, which causes acid levels to increase in your mouth and remain high over an extended time.
- If you get a craving for something sweet, chew a sugarless gum like Xylitol. Research has shown that Xylitol strengthens our teeth by inducing remineralization of the enamel.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day, with a fluoridated toothpaste for two minutes and floss daily. Daily dental hygiene reduces bacterial plaque levels in your mouth.
- See your dentist every six months for a regular checkup that includes removing plaque buildup.
Preventing Mechanical Wear and Tear on Your Teeth
The function of our teeth is mostly mechanical — to mash and grind and break up food, so that it can be more easily digested. For the most part, our teeth are resistant to cracks and chips. This is mainly due to the enamel portion of our teeth, which is the hardest substance in our body. However, even our enamel cannot withstand the forces of biting down hard on something like an olive that still has a pit or a kernel of unpopped popcorn. Oftentimes, teeth that have large fillings and root canals are particularly vulnerable, since they don’t have the strength of structurally intact teeth.
Another problem that causes wear and tear of our teeth is the habit of grinding or clenching teeth, called Bruxism. Typically this occurs as we sleep and over time the bruxism can wear down the biting surfaces of teeth, making them more susceptible to cavities.
- Avoid chewing ice and other very hard foods.
- Double-check to make sure that pitted foods have no pits before you bite down on them.
- See your dentist regularly. Your dentist can take a proactive approach by looking for cracked or broken fillings that may weaken teeth. Additionally, your dentist will check for signs of bruxism. In many cases, people who grind or clench their teeth aren’t aware of the habit or the damage they are doing to their teeth. If you show signs of bruxism, your dentist may recommend a custom fitting mouth guard that can be worn at night to protect your teeth and restorations.
Preventing Gum Problems
The biggest threat to our teeth is gum disease. The risk of gum problems increases with age, especially as pockets form at the gum line where bacteria can grow. If left untreated, the bacteria can cause inflammation that damages the supporting structures of our teeth, leading to tooth loss. If left untreated, the inflammation caused by bacteria can complicate many other systemic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- Brush and floss twice a day to remove bacteria.
- Make an appointment with a Periodontist for an examination to see if you have gum disease. This is a simple examination that is particularly important for detecting gum disease early and treating it. The earlier it is detected and treated, the better the long-term prognosis for keeping your teeth healthy.