As we get older, what changes in our mouth?

There are several things in the body that change with age, and your teeth and mouth are no exception. Although you might brush and floss your teeth on a regular basis, there is natural wear and tear on the teeth and mouth as a whole that will occur as you get older. Some regular preventive actions on your part, as well as dental treatments from your dentist can repair these issues and give you the brilliant smile that you have had or that you want to have.

As you chew over time, the teeth will wear down. If you clench your teeth together or grind them, then you might notice the teeth losing their shape. Teeth grinding, as you might expect, can have a dramatic effect on your teeth as you age, and the ripple effect in your mouth of the grinding down of your teeth can be significant.

Teeth also get darker as you age. This is because the dentin, or the middle layer of the tooth, gets thicker. While this occurs, the enamel gets thin, allowing the breakdown of the dentin to show through. The teeth can easily become discolored because of the thinning enamel. Certain foods and drinks such as coffee, wine and tea have a higher likelihood of staining your teeth as well, especially after the cumulative effect over many years.

[media-credit id=13 align=”alignleft” width=”350″]funny_book[/media-credit]One misconception about changes in our mouth as we get older is that gum disease is inevitable. This is a myth and preventive care can keep gum disease from taking hold. As a reference, gum (also referred to as periodontal) disease is an infection of the gums and surrounding tissues that maintain your teeth in place. Periodontal disease is able to develop when plaque, which can feel like a sticky film of bacteria in your mouth, is allowed to build up along and under the gum line, which is why it is important to brush at least twice a day and to use an antiseptic mouthwash to get rid of as many germs in the mouth as possible. Unhealthy gums can change as well by shrinking. At times, the roots or sensitive areas of the tooth could become exposed as a result, potentially leading to other issues. The longer bacteria and plaque is allowed to accumulate, especially as we get older, the greater the impact on your oral health.

Dry mouth is another condition which can impact oral health and the overall comfort of your teeth and mouth, as it increases an individual’s risk for tooth decay. Saliva is very beneficial to our mouth as it helps keep harmful germs that cause tooth decay and other related oral infections in check. Saliva has other benefits that can help to reverse early tooth decay as well. While dry mouth can disproportionately impact older people, it is important to note that the condition is not part of the aging process itself. As part of their lifestyles, older adults can be more likely to have certain conditions, and do regular activities, which can promote oral dryness, such as taking medications that can dry out the mouth. Other potential causes of dry mouth for older adults can include disease, radiation treatment and/or nerve damage. It’s important to find the cause of dry mouth, so you can get effective treatment.   

Many of the changes that you see (or that you don’t see) in the mouth don’t happen all at once. You might notice a small difference one month, and a few months later something could look completely different, or you might not notice that anything has changed unless you suddenly experience pain in the mouth. So changes can be subtle or sudden, but for this reason it is important to regularly examine your mouth and teeth, and be aware of signs of change that may benefit from help from a dental professional. When you have such a concern, consider seeing your general or restorative dentist to have X-rays completed and a thorough exam in order to see what is going on with the teeth and gums.

[media-credit id=13 align=”alignleft” width=”350″]before after[/media-credit]A dentist can help with the restoration of older teeth and also dental treatments can provide effective relief from changes in your mouth that might cause discomfort, tooth loss or pain. These dental treatments can potentially include dental implants, bridges, custom fitted mouthguards or dentures.

So while we all get older, and changes do come with age, take steps yourself to maintain optimal oral health and discuss with your dentist how they can help to restore and maintain your great smile for years to come.