By Karen Cicero for I love my kids & Completely You
You can have a stunning smile and healthy teeth at any age — you just need to know how to prepare. “Each decade of life poses different challenges for your teeth,” says Arthur Weiner, a dentist, spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry and professor at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. “But with regular dental checkups, you can keep on top of these concerns.”
Exactly what should you (and your doc) be on the lookout for? Here’s the dish on how to keep your teeth healthy with age, decade by decade.
Healthy Teeth: Your 30s
Your life might be busier (wedding, kids, more job responsibilities), but all should be pretty calm in your mouth. “These are the maintenance years for the dental work you had done in your teens and early 20s,” says Weiner. There are, however, a few key issues to discuss with your dentist.
- Soothe Sensitive Teeth: If you feel twinges of pain when you eat something particularly hot or cold, then the middle layer of your tooth (aka dentin) may have become exposed. “People in their late 20s and early 30s tend to have the most sensitive teeth, and it’s often because they brush too hard,” says Gordon Isbell III, a dentist in Gadsden, Ala. One remedy: Switch to a soft-bristled toothbrush and don’t scrub your teeth like you’re cleaning the bathtub. Light pressure sweeps away the gunk, without taking off tooth enamel.
- Plan for Baby: Hormonal changes, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy, can make your gums swollen and puffy. If you’re planning on being in the pink or blue, schedule your dental checkup right before you start trying to conceive. Your dentist can remove any plaque you’ve built up since your last appointment so your gums will be less likely to act up. Try to brush after episodes of morning sickness to get rid of the acid in your mouth. Otherwise, it may harm tooth enamel.
- Rethink Your Drink: People in their 30s drink a lot of beverages that stain teeth or damage enamel, including soda, coffee and sports drinks. “Cutting back now might save you from cosmetic work in the future,” says Weiner. Swap soda and sports drinks for water (even the no-cal flavored kind). If you need your coffee fix, don’t linger with your mug. Nursing a cup for a couple of hours causes way more staining than finishing it in 15 minutes.
Healthy Teeth: Your 40s
Expect some tooth repairs during this decade — dental work doesn’t last forever. Here’s what you might have to spruce up.
- Check Old Fillings: “If you had a cavity filled 15 or 20 years ago, it’s probably going to wear out soon,” says Weiner. You may not notice anything, but your dentist can spot a crack or other deterioration during a checkup and simply replace the filling. If left untreated, however, food particles can work their way under a cracked filling, causing further decay or even a painful infection.
- Guard Against Grinding: Stress usually ratchets up in your 40s, and a recent German study of 69 adults found that the most tense participants were also the most likely to grind or clench their teeth. It’s more than a bad habit: It can wear down tooth enamel and break crowns or other dental work, for starters. Since most tooth grinding happens during sleep, you might not even know you do it until your spouse tells you. If you suspect you’re becoming a grinder, avoid caffeine and alcohol at night (they can trigger grating too), try to find ways to reduce stress in your life, and talk to your dentist about getting a mouth guard that can prevent the problem.
- Brighten Your Smile: Your pearly whites may not be so white anymore, since the outer layer of enamel can wear away and reveal the yellower dentin. “Years of coffee and tea can cause staining too,” says Isbell. Stains from food and drinks generally don’t respond as well to whitening as the yellow discoloration that comes with age. Your dentist will be able to tell you the best options based on the cause and extent of the discoloration — and based on how much money you’re willing to spend on a brighter smile.
Healthy Teeth: Your 50s, 60s and Beyond
These decades can make or break your future oral health. “Lots of problems start to set in during these years, and you have to take care of them right away to keep your teeth healthy,” says Isbell. The three biggies:
- Deal With Gum Disease: You might have had some plaque and swollen gums when you were younger, but that’s child’s play in comparison to the deepening pockets that develop as gums start to separate from teeth. “Hormonal changes and bone loss associated with menopause tend to accelerate gum disease,” says Weiner. Your doctor may ask you to come in for cleanings more often. This time around, you’ll have to get deep cleanings (called scaling and root planning) to remove even more plaque. And of course, it’s more important than ever to floss!
- Keep Your Mouth Moist: Your mouth produces less saliva as you get older — a real bummer, since saliva often washes away decay-causing bacteria. If you’ve started taking a new medication — especially one for depression, high blood pressure or high cholesterol — it’s a double-whammy because these can cause dry mouth too. “Your dentist may recommend chewing a sugarless gum to increase saliva flow,” says Isbell.
- Handle Arthritis: This joint disease may interfere with how well you can brush your teeth. If you don’t think you’re doing as good of a job as usual, consider switching from a manual to an electric toothbrush, which can do more of the work for you.