A brilliant smile is everyone’s best beauty boost and the good news is there are things you can do to combat the changes that come with time…
Martina Syron, a preventive and cosmetic dentist, gives us some advice on how to keep our smiles looking great.
In your 30s…
…it’s about safeguarding enamel and gums.
Risk: When you’re in your thirties, acid erosion over the past decade or two from wine, fizzy water, juice, lemon and grapefruit, and even possibly from morning sickness, starts to take its toll on your teeth. This can begin to cause thinning of the enamel, which, in turn, makes your teeth sensitive.
Solution: To reduce the impact of acid in food, it’s important to wait half an hour to brush teeth after eating or drinking to allow saliva the chance to neutralise acid. If you brush immediately after, say, drinking orange juice, it rubs the acid in, causing erosion. Rinsing with water or eating a small piece of cheese after drinking wine also has a neutralising effect. If you suffer from morning sickness, it’s important to rinse your teeth regularly with water. A fluoride rinse or chewing gum may help as well. According to Orbit: “Studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum after meals can help neutralise acids that can be harmful to your teeth. Sugar-free gum reduces plaque and increases saliva flow, which strengthens tooth enamel and reduces acid that causes decay.”
Risk: Hormonal changes and an increased immune response in pregnant women mean that the tiniest bit of bacteria in plaque can cause an exaggerated response. Pregnancy gingivitis (gum inflammation) can cause swelling, redness of the gums and increased bleeding from light pressure. If left untreated, this can become a pregnancy epulis, which is an unsightly swelling between the teeth.
Solution: An epulis usually shrinks naturally, but can take up to a year. So prevention is better than cure with regular visits to a dental hygienist and check-ups during pregnancy, especially if you notice that your gums are bleeding.
In your 40s…
…it’s about maintenance.
Risk: When you take a bite, it’s the lower jaw that moves and, over time, the lower incisors become chipped and uneven.
Solution: Chips can easily be fixed with bonding composite: a white enamel-like material bonded onto teeth edges. It lasts up to five years and is cheaper and less destructive than veneers, which remove the enamel, the strongest part of the tooth.
Risk: Stress fractures – vertical lines on the front teeth, which stain brown – caused by teeth-grinding and nail-biting also start to appear in your forties. Tea, coffee, red wine, curry, soy sauce, green tea and açai juice can also stain teeth, making them yellower. A common mistake is to scrub harder and put more toothpaste on the brush – this abrades the enamel, revealing more of the next layer, dentine, which is yellower and cannot be bleached. Whitening toothpastes can remove light, superficial staining, but take care to select one that’s not abrasive.
Solution: Whitening can conceal stress fractures and reverse organic stain build-up. But it’s crucial to opt for slow, controlled bleaching supervised by a dentist. This involves using trays worn overnight to give continual release over a period of six hours rather than using aggressive whitening products you can buy online or over the counter.
Risk: Teeth clenching and grinding during the night – temporomandibular joint dysfunction – puts teeth under extreme pressure and can cause them to crack.
Solution: The only way to stop this is to get a tooth guard – like a thin gumshield – made by your dentist, which you wear every night. Unfortunately, it doesn’t break the habit – it just protects the teeth from damage, so it’s a lifelong commitment.
In your 50s…
…it’s time to prepare for hormonal changes.
Risk: Teeth and gums are susceptible to hormonal changes. Menopause – in particular, decreasing levels of oestrogen – causes the oral mucosa tissue inside your mouth to thin. This leads to a drier mouth, so teeth and gums become more susceptible to periodontal disease, which can result in inflammation, pain, bleeding and, eventually, loose or missing teeth. The primary cause of this is the bacteria in plaque at or under the gum margin, which can cause an increased risk of inflammation.
There’s a proven connection between periodontal disease and heart disease and diabetes – toxins from your gums can travel into your blood, causing inflammation around the heart and pancreas. Studies also imply a link between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s, so it really pays to maintain your gums.
Solution: Hygienist appointments at least every six months are vital.
Risk: A less common symptom that comes with menopause is burning mouth syndrome; a pain in the mouth that feels like scalding, tingling, or numbness and altered taste. Research has found possible causes are problems in the sensory nervous system, allergies (for example, to mouthwash), vitamin B deficiencies, anxiety and depression.
Solution: Your dentist may refer you to a GP or gum specialist. Treatment is usually a low dose of benzodiazepines, such as Valium, which can help treat symptoms. Cognitive behavioural therapy has also had positive results.
In your 60s…
…fix common problems.
Risk: Many medications – including blood-pressure pills and antidepressants – can cause a dry mouth, leading to difficulty chewing and swallowing. Less saliva means plaque collects.
Solution: Your dentist can prescribe a lubricating gel, which creates artificial saliva.
Risk: Women in their sixties can have gum recession as a result of over-brushing, using a brush that’s too big and too hard, and thinning of the tissue from loss of oestrogen. The exposed root then causes sensitivity.
Solution: Your dentist can apply a liquid film of desensitiser, which lasts for six months. Use a desensitising toothpaste like Sensodyne and, when you finish rinsing, use your finger to rub paste into the exposed root.
Risk: Since the root is just dentine with no protective enamel, it’s much softer and is more prone to cavities. If there is a deep cavity in an exposed root, decay occurs quickly.
Solution: Your dentist can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen an exposed root. If there is a deep root cavity, a filling can be used to build up the root. You can even have a gum-coloured filling (from specialist cosmetic dentists) to make it look like the gum is still there. It’s cosmetic, but makes the exposed root less sensitive.
By Victoria Young