Do you ever wonder how long your teeth should last? And what happens to your teeth as we age?
Well, as your whole body, the aging also takes a toll on dental and gum changes. Some changes are caused by natural aging, while others may result from lifestyle choices or health conditions. This article will discuss some of the most prevalent effects of aging on the teeth.
Understanding Teeth Anatomy
Before discussing how teeth change with age, it is essential to understand the different parts that make up a tooth.
The tooth has two primary parts: the crown and the root. The crown is the visible portion of a tooth; it comprises enamel covering the dentine and the pulp cavity (which contains blood vessels and nerves) inside.
The portion of a tooth typically covered by the tissues is the root. It comprises cementum (on the outer surface) and teeth (within), with the root canal at its center.
A human typically has two pairs of teeth throughout their lifetime: primary (infant) and permanent (adult) teeth.
Oral And Dental Health Indicates General Health
Your tongue, teeth, and oral cavity serve as a “canary in the coal mine” for the remainder of your body.
You are likely headed for other significant health problems if your mouth is unhealthy. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis have all been linked to poor oral health, according to scientific research. These connections highlight the interconnected nature of the body. Conversely, if your teeth and gums are healthful, you will likely experience fewer health problems as you age. Therefore, it is essential to maintain good oral health, as it may act as an indicator of overall health.
Those who clench their teeth involuntarily during the night (bruxism) will have more visible signs of loss than those who do not.
Age-Related Oral And Dental Changes
The probability of developing various oral and dental health conditions increases with age. To maintain a healthy smile as you age, it is essential to be aware of the changes that may occur, such as enamel erosion and gingival recession.
But contrary to popular belief, the effects of aging on the teeth and gum are not mainly because of aging; they are affected by factors such as the environment and the type of care we take for our teeth, and very small aging changes occur in them.
Let’s take an example of how our natural, permanent teeth are as sturdy as a marble table. If the marble table is not damaged from the outside, it will remain unchanged. But if we start cleaning the marble surfaces, putting fluids on it, and insulting it in other ways, the marble begins to be damaged.
What happens to your dental structtures as you age largely depends on how you have been using them throughout your entire life.
According to the Harvard Medical School, periodontal disease, tooth degeneration, oral cancer, mouth infections, and tooth loss increase with age. For instance, gum disease is more prevalent among elderly individuals. Also, oral cancer becomes more common as people age. In addition, tooth decay and other dental issues are more prevalent among the elderly.
Let’s read some of the most common changes that occur in dental structures,
Nearly 20% of people over the age of 64 have lost all of their teeth, even though tooth loss is not a natural aspect of aging. It is usually defective by many factors. Tooth loss can be caused by cavities, oral disease, or wear and tear, which are discussed further.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research reports that adults over 65 have an average of 18.90 remaining teeth (out of 32).
The key to preventing tooth loss early detection of the dental changes. The earlier phases of gum disease are treatable with dental cleaning, root planing, and scaling, whereas the later stages require more invasive surgical procedures, which will be discussed in our next article. Click here to read.
Age-Related Gum Recession
Gum recession or receding gums is the detachment of gum tissue from the teeth. In other words, it refers to the progressive exposure of the tooth’s root surfaces due to the gum tissue losing or receding. As a result of exposing more of the tooth’s root tissue, receding gums have been found to cause discomfort and sensitivity and affect self-esteem. It is also the most common reason for tooth loss in individuals over 65, affecting around 68% of the population.
Poor dental hygiene leads directly to gum disease, which is an inflammation of the gums. Also, many medical problems, including heart disease, have been linked to gum disease.
Identifying gum recession is difficult due to its gradual degeneration. Occasionally, the first sign is sensitivity in or around the affected tooth. Also, it is difficult to pinpoint a single cause of receding gums. Often, the problem is a combination of habits:
- Overbrushing or aggressive cleaning
- Insufficient brushing (which can contribute to periodontal disease)
- Too vigorous flossing
- Tobacco use
This is the origin of the term “getting long in the tooth,” as receding gums expose more of the tooth roots, giving the impression of longer teeth.
Plaque-producing microorganisms are the cause of cavities, which are induced by sugary foods. Although cavities are frequent in people of all ages, they are most prevalent in the elderly. It is usually because as you age, the gum tissue surrounding your teeth begins to recede, exposing more of the crown and roots of your teeth, which are not protected by enamel. This makes the crown and root surfaces susceptible to cavities.
It is essential to treat cavities to avoid toothache, infection, and loss. Regular dental examinations are the most effective way to detect and treat dental caries, which, if left untreated, can cause pain, necessitate more complex procedures, and ultimately result in tooth loss.
Wear And Tear of Denture
Due to various factors, our teeth endure a natural process of wear and strain as we age. The few most common ones are mentioned here.
Grinding and Clenching: Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, may accelerate tooth decay and wear. Teeth grinding is typically an unconscious behavior during the day or while sleeping. When you grind your teeth together or clench your jaw, the molars experience extreme pressure. Eventually, these molars will begin to move and displace your other teeth.
Almost 5-8% world population does it. In serious cases, this can result in flattened or chipped biting surfaces, jawbone discomfort, and migraines.
Using Teeth As a Tool: Using your teeth for purposes other than eating can cause significant wear and strain over time. While teeth are designed for biting and chewing, using them to open packages, tear tape, divide nuts, or perform other non-food-related tasks can cause injury and oral health problems.
Changes in the Dental Arches & teeth Crowding:
The majority of individuals’ dental structures become more congested over time. The teeth tend to migrate naturally toward the front of the mouth. This typically causes the front teeth to appear misaligned and crowded.
It is due to Like our skin; the teeth also need collagen to keep up with the elasticity. The lack of collagen can also cause the dental arches to contract, crowding the teeth. Loss of collagen and the resulting crowding of the teeth typically commence between the ages of 30 and 40, interfering with bite alignment and causing excessive wear and tear.
Over time, ligaments, gum tissue, and bone deteriorate, making it easier for teeth to move forward.
Lower Jaw Forwarding: Everyone’s lower jaw advances as they age. This change modifies the jawbone’s shape and influences the bite as well. The lower jaw bone deteriorates when teeth are lost because it has nothing to cling onto. This can eventually result in a sunken look and make us appear older than we are. As the lower teeth shift, spaces in the upper teeth and congestion and overlap may become more apparent with time.
Changes in Teeth Color
Have you observed that your once-brilliant smile has turned yellow over the years?
It occurs for several reasons, enamel stains being the most common. The enamel is a very brittle substance that is devoid of living cells. When enamel wears away gradually because of regular chewing and eating, the body cannot replace it. As a result, people of advanced age are more likely to have discolored teeth.
The second cause that contributes is Dentin, the yellow substance at the center of teeth, which thickens significantly as teeth age. Enamel, the only white tooth component, covers the exposed portion and is translucent in color, but the majority of a tooth’s rigid structure is yellow and makes up the dentin, which becomes thicker naturally as we age.
Another reason can be a decreased blood supply to the teeth. This is because there is less blood supply in the smaller space within the teeth due to other age-related changes, and dehydration makes the teeth brittle and more susceptible to cracking and breaking.
In addition to natural changes, certain foods and beverages, such as tea, coffee, tobacco, and alcohol, also cause the discoloration of teeth. Also, certain drugs have been linked to a gradual yellowing of teeth. Antibiotics, antipsychotics, antihypertensives, chemotherapy, and over-the-counter antihistamines are all examples.
The outermost covering of teeth, called enamel, can become dull in its luster with time. Three processes lead to a reduction in the thickness of the enamel coating the teeth:
Abrasion: Mechanical processes, such as brushing with a hard-bristled toothbrush or using overly abrasive toothpaste, can cause enamel to wear away over time, known as abrasion. This causes the enamel to weaken and become more see-through, revealing the yellow dentin beneath.
Attrition: Attrition is the reduction of tooth length caused by enamel erosion on the biting surfaces. This is typically the consequence of clutching and/or grinding during sleep, causing teeth to appear shortened and occasionally cracked or jagged.
Erosion: Strong acids chemically dissolve enamel to cause erosion. This can result from consuming acidic beverages, suffering from severe acid reflux, or vomiting frequently. Erosion can also cause enamel to become thinner and yellow in appearance. Typically, the most serious damage occurs on the inside of the molars, so only a dental professional will notice any changes.
Less Or More Sensitivities
With age, teeth are liable to become more sensitive. The nerve ending in the teeth reduces as we age, but the age-related decreases in enamel and the likelihood of receding gums and root surface exposure increase the likelihood that one will experience pain or sensitivity.
In contrast to the nerves in the teeth, the receptors for taste can lose sensitivity with age. As taste sensations diminish, one may attempt to compensate for the perceived blandness by adding more seasonings, such as adding too much sugar, salt, or acidic ingredients to the meals. Some also begin consuming their food at a higher temperature to regain lost mouthfeel. All this can lead to mouth ulcers, which may discourage one from following a strict oral hygiene regimen.
And while we are all aware that this can harm our health, it can also be detrimental to our dentition. To know deeply how loss of taste sensation occurs with time, please refer to our well-researched article here.
Dry Mouth and Decreased Saliva production
According to the American Dental Association, 30% of dental patients aged 65 and older suffer from xerostomia (dry mouth) when the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva, a dry mouth develops, damaging oral health. Saliva protects against acid erosion, kills bacteria, and replenishes tooth minerals. Without it, dry mouth may speed up the growth of microorganisms in the mouth, leading to accelerated tooth decay.
The ADA explains that this is most likely linked to common medications prescribed to elderly individuals and medical conditions such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Some experts believe dry mouth may also make the esophageal membrane more susceptible to damage.
To prevent a dry mouth, it is recommended to consume 8 glasses of water daily, if possible, and to brush and floss twice daily.
Smoking is unhealthy at any age, but the dangers to our health increase dramatically. Oral cancer is a significant health concern that occurs more frequently after age 45, predominantly among smokers. It is seven times more likely to develop in people over 65 and is the leading cause of mortality among senior Americans.
Early detection provides the most chance to regulate the disease and significantly improves survival rates. Oral cancer monitoring should be integral to every senior’s routine dental exam.
The Effect of Aging Teeth on Overall Health
The negative effects of tooth decay and gum disease extend beyond the requirement for more dental care. There have been extensive studies going on about dental changes and adequate hygiene can change. (1)(2)(3)
- Respiratory disease
- Systemic illness
- Cardiovascular disease
- Low self-worth
- Decreased social engagement
- Difficulties with speech and communication