Dental health can have an impact not only on the health of your teeth but your overall well being. This becomes especially important as you age, since teeth change and become more susceptible to oral conditions such as tooth decay, tooth loss, gum disease, cavities, and more.
You may also notice your teeth start to change color or lose their original shape. Aging teeth are a normal part of life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose your sparkling smile.
If you’re worried about the effects of aging on your teeth or aren’t confident in your smile anymore, we’re here to help. Our guide breaks down exactly what happens to your mouth as you age and provides tips on how you can maintain a healthy mouth and minimize the signs of aging.
Table of Contents:
- What happens to teeth as you age?
- Do gums recede with age?
- Tooth loss and aging
- Can you stop your teeth from aging?
- How to whiten aging teeth
- How to help an elderly loved one
- Additional resources
As you age, your risk of developing dental decay, gum disease, tooth loss, oral cancer, and mouth infection increases. However, by practicing proper oral care and maintaining a healthy mouth, it is possible to avoid or mitigate these risks altogether.
Over time, you may notice the color of your teeth changes. According to Dr. Joseph Salim, DMD, a New York top-rated cosmetic dentist, “the difference in appearance is due to both the cumulative effects of dyes and food colorings over the years. But the change also results from enamel's thinning. When enamel wears down, the tooth layer directly underneath, the dentin, will be exposed.”
As you age, that outermost layer of tooth enamel wears down and exposes the layer underneath, called dentin. The dentin below the teeth is a yellowish color, resulting in teeth appearing yellow with age.
What you can do: There isn’t much you can do to prevent this, as it is a natural part of aging. In order to soften the yellow color and remove any external stains, practice proper oral hygiene and use teeth whitening products regularly to help mitigate the effects on a cosmetic level.
Just like your body, your teeth show wear and tear as you age. Wear and tear — also known as “attrition” — plays a significant role in how your teeth change as you get older. From the food that you eat to what you drink, your teeth endure a lot over the course of your life.
According to Dr. Febin Mary George, a dental surgeon and health expert, “attrition starts right from the day when the tooth erupts in our mouth. The rate of attrition is higher in those who have the habit of grinding or clenching their teeth.” The wear and tear done to your teeth can be exacerbated by not brushing and flossing regularly, grinding or clenching teeth, dental work breaking down, or taking medications that cause dry mouth.
What you can do: One way to slow down the effects of attrition is to be mindful of what you’re consuming. Prioritize foods that can help keep your teeth white and avoid acidic, sugary, and starchy foods and drinks.
A normal part of getting older is taking medications. However, a common side effect of certain medications is xerostomia — also known as dry mouth. Some medications can decrease the production of saliva, and saliva protects your mouth against cavities and periodontal disease. Certain medications prescribed to treat heart disease, allergies, hypertension, and depression can cause dry mouth.
Dr. Febin says that “saliva keeps our mouth moist and protects our teeth from the decay-causing bacteria due to its flushing action. A dry mouth makes our teeth more prone to bacterial attack and can increase dental cavities.” As you get older, your mouth gets drier and medication can exacerbate this, increasing your odds of tooth decay and gum disease.
What you can do: Be cognizant of the medications that you’re taking. Ask your doctor what side effects are common and what you can do to prevent or mitigate them. If you notice you start to experience dry mouth, contact your dentist immediately. They may recommend using Biotene toothpaste or mouthwash to keep your mouth more moist.
According to Dr. Salim, “using tobacco products, smoking, and drinking alcoholic beverages excessively over long periods of time, can also increase the likelihood of cancer in your mouth and surrounding structures.” People who smoke are twice as likely to develop gum disease compared to those who don’t. The nicotine from cigarettes or chewing tobacco can also leave stains on your teeth. Electronic cigarettes and vaping can also cause discoloration. These effects only get worse as you age.
What you can do: Dentists recommend quitting smoking and drinking only in moderation.
As your teeth age, they are more susceptible to tooth decay and disease. According to Dr. Dan Rodda, DDS, “the main threats to the longevity of your teeth are either caused by bacteria or forces.” Bacteria is a common cause of decay or gum disease. That’s why it is so important to practice proper oral hygiene. Dr. Rodda recommends “preventing tooth decay by brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and [that] seeing your dentist twice a year for a check-up and professional cleaning is very important. Decay left unchecked can cause a lot of damage to the teeth.”
Dr. Diana Wu, DDS, mentions that “aging teeth and gums are more susceptible to teeth fractures and structural breakdown.” As you get older, your mouth gets drier causing your risk of tooth decay to increase.
What you can do: Brush and floss daily, go to your dentist for regular checkups, drink lots of water, and avoid a diet heavy in simple sugars. This will help you avoid plaque build-up that can lead to tooth decay.
Your gums will recede as you age. This is a normal part of aging and is a common issue among many seniors. Gingival (gum) recession — also known as receding gums — is when the gums recede or pull away from the teeth. When this happens, parts of the root surfaces will be exposed, which can cause sensitivity to temperature changes and certain foods and drinks.
Research has found receding gums to be more prevalent in older adults. Years of grinding or clenching teeth can lead to gum recessions as well if not properly managed.
According to Dr. Pradeep Adatrow, “receding gums can be avoided by having good oral hygiene, avoiding any harmful oral habits, and regularly visiting your dentist.” If you notice your gums showing signs of receding, visit your dentist as soon as possible to discuss the best way to manage the issue. Treatment usually entails deep cleaning or surgical procedures like gum grafts.
Tooth loss is not a common result of aging teeth. According to Dr. Febin, “loss of teeth can be due to multiple reasons and not just an end result of aging.” Age itself is not the cause of tooth loss, however, as you age your gums and bone level become weak — making them more susceptible to disease.
Periodontal (gum) disease is one of the leading causes of tooth loss in adults. It’s an infection of the tissues that hold teeth in place and it’s caused by the build-up of plaque around the teeth and around the gumline. Periodontal disease is more prevalent in seniors ages 65 and over. It’s estimated that 70% of adults over the age of 65 experience gum disease.
This disease slowly causes the jaw bone and gums to recede — resulting in teeth becoming loose or lost because there is nothing holding them in place. “Receding gums expose the roots of our teeth and make them more susceptible to dental decay,” says Dr. Febin. However, tooth loss is not directly a result of aging and is not common unless you have periodontal disease.
How to Prevent Tooth Loss
The prevention of tooth loss is contingent on the prevention of oral disease. Gum disease is generally asymptomatic, resulting in it going unnoticed and untreated for years. This can result in severe health problems later in life. Dr. Rodda says that “regular home care and regular visits to the dentist” can prevent the loss of teeth.
If you brush and floss regularly and visit your dentist at least every six months for a cleaning, then you will most likely not lose any teeth and any gum disease will be identified and dealt with properly before it can get any worse. Eating a healthy diet and omitting sugary foods and drinks can also lessen your chances of tooth loss. However, if you don’t practice proper oral hygiene, you are more susceptible to periodontal disease which can lead to tooth loss at any age. If you experience tooth loss, tooth replacements can be implanted or dentures can be created.
Just like you can’t stop the rest of your body from aging, you cannot stop your teeth from aging. However, you can mitigate the effects. Everything starts and ends with prevention. Just like having a solid skincare routine can help prevent wrinkles, having a stable oral hygiene routine can keep your teeth looking young and healthy for as long as possible. Dr. Febin says with “routine oral hygiene measures like brushing and flossing, you can minimize the signs of aging but not stop your teeth from aging.”
Below are some ways that you can minimize the effects of aging teeth:
- Brush two times a day with a soft-bristled or an electric toothbrush
- Floss regularly
- Take dentures out every night and clean them every morning
- Stop smoking
- Visit the dentist’s office at least every six months for regular cleanings
- Omit sugary, acidic, and tannin-filled foods from your diet
- If you grind or clench your teeth, get a custom-fitted night guard to prevent teeth from wearing or breaking down and to prevent gums receding
- Drink lots of water to prevent tooth decay
- Avoid dark colored and acidic drinks like soda and wine
- When your teeth start to turn yellow, use a professional whitening treatment to help them appear more white
Anything you can do to prevent the wear and tear placed on your teeth will help. Dr. Salim states that in order “to circumvent the inevitable negative impacts of aging on our teeth, mouths, and bodies as a whole, we need to be proactive. We need to preemptively look to prevent the undesired effects of aging. Your dentist can definitely help you achieve that goal, allowing you to live a happier and healthier life.”
One way to minimize the signs of aging is to use a professional whitening treatment like Auraglow. Dr. Salim recommends “whitening your teeth every 18 months on average.” He says that “it will be very useful to prevent or at least significantly reduce the yellowing and darkening of your teeth over time as you age. You should also use maintenance whitening kits in between each whitening session. They help you keep your teeth as white as possible for as long as possible.”
Teeth whitening is a popular option for extrinsic stains (stains on the outside of the teeth). These are caused by normal wear and tear such as eating and drinking. Teeth whitening kits are a great way to manage these types of stains. The Auraglow teeth whitening kit combines professional whitening gel with LED technology to provide professional dental whitening results in as little as one treatment.
If you suffer from intrinsic stains (stains on the inside of the tooth) caused by medications, generally some type of in-office procedure or replacement is necessary. To make sure teeth whitening will work for you, always talk to your dentist beforehand.
There are over 40 million caregivers in the U.S. If you fall into that bucket, you know how important it is for your loved one to keep a healthy mouth. To make your job a little easier, below are some ways that you can help your loved one maintain proper oral hygiene.
- Daily reminders: Remind them on a daily basis to brush twice a day for at least two minutes. Remind them to floss at least once a day.
- Disinfect dentures: After every meal, clean their dentures with a denture cleaner and remind them to take them out before bed. Store them in water and rinse them out in the morning before they put them back in.
- Limit sugary foods and drinks: Help your loved one prioritize healthy foods and drinks that will support their oral health. Stick to crunchy vegetables, low-sugar fruits, whole grains, and lots of water.
- Keep an eye on symptoms: Keep a pulse on their oral health as a whole. If you notice any symptoms — like toothache or dry mouth — schedule an appointment with their dentist.
- Schedule dental appointments: Make sure your loved one visits the dentist on a regular basis. To help, schedule appointments for them and go with them. If your loved one only has dentures, they still need to go to the dentist regularly.
How much help needed will depend on the individual. If your loved one suffers from dementia or a physical limitation, they may need help brushing their teeth. To do this, Dr. Jean-Max Jean-Pierre, a board-certified periodontist in Hendersonville, Tennessee, recommends wiping “their remaining teeth and gums with a gauze dipped in prescription Peridex.” This is an oral antiseptic that can be prescribed by your dentist. He recommends wearing disposable gloves when doing this and making regular dental appointments to have any issues checked out.
If your loved one gets anxious about going to the dentist or refuses to go altogether, contact your dentist for alternative options. Some companies offer dental care units that can come to your home. In more extreme situations, sedation is sometimes necessary. To make oral health a little more fun, download the dental health reminder stickers below.
Keeping a healthy mouth is not only vital to keeping you and your loved ones healthy, but it is also imperative in defending against viruses like COVID-19 and the flu. For more information on how you can protect your mouth and prevent signs of aging, check out the resources below or contact a dental professional.