If your teeth are dingier yellow than pearly white or you’ve noticed some shifting happening in your mouth, don’t worry. You don’t have to grin and bear the bad news. Though discolored teeth, receding gums, and chips and gaps are signs of getting older, there are many things you can do to handle aging teeth.
Teeth have a tough job, and not everyone likes the effects of decades of wear and tear. According to dentists, top aging teeth issues include discoloration, crowding or gaps, and loss of enamel. Dr. Ramin Tabib of NYC Smile Design says that the last item on the list can result in darker teeth and shorter teeth, and shorter teeth can move. That leads to a whole host of issues, he says, including crowding, overlapping, and gaps.
Gum recession is also common among older adults. When gums recede, the roots of the teeth can be exposed, says Dr. Tabib. Not only does it look unappealing, but it can lead to tooth damage or tooth loss if left untreated. Tackling these age-related issues usually requires a multipronged approach that takes into account aesthetic, functional, and health concerns.
If your teeth are still in good shape, think prevention, says Dr. Jon Marashi, a celebrity dentist who tends to the famous smiles of Ryan Seacrest and Pink, among others. His recommendations — in addition to good daily oral hygiene and professional teeth cleaning every three to six months — is to avoid acidic foods like coffee, tea, sparkling water, soda, and red wine. It’s also a good idea to brush well after eating foods such as blueberries and beets, which can stain teeth. And curb bad habits like biting pens or fingernails and chewing ice, Dr. Tabib says.
It may not be the sexiest thing to wear to bed, but dentists often recommend a nightguard to protect teeth from grinding while you sleep. “During the COVID Pandemic, people have experienced great stress which has exacerbated clenching and grinding issues associated with TMJ problems. We have seen an increase in headaches, sensitive teeth, receding gums, and worn down teeth,” says Dr. Elisa Mello, D.D.S. “This is especially true for women- juggling jobs, homeschooling for their children, and decreased income with increased household daily responsibilities.” Grinding and clenching can also move teeth, leading to spacing or crowding. “The need for protection with proper guards and for treatment of these problems is at an all-time high, given the continuance of uncertainty in our lives,” Dr. Mello adds.
For teeth that have already shifted, Invisalign clear aligners can give you a brighter, straighter smile, but they come with a price tag of around $3,500 to $8,000, depending on the condition of your teeth and where you live. Less-expensive options have popped up in recent years. They include Smile Direct Club and Byte. These similar clear aligner systems claim to work faster and do cost less. They can even be more convenient for some patients. Invisalign requires that you work in person with a dentist or orthodontist; Smile Direct and Byte contract with licensed dentists and orthodontists in each state to prescribe and remotely monitor patient treatment plans, so you’re not having to make frequent trips to a dentist office. Though that might sound like a great idea, every case is different. Do your homework before you commit.
One of the more common ways to remedy darkening or yellowing teeth is whitening. For external stains, Dr. Marashi recommends a whitening toothpaste with activated charcoal, such as the one from Hello. The ingredients absorb and bind to compounds that stain teeth, making chompers brighter. Over-the-counter teeth-whitening products include strips, gels, and rinses. They can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks to see results, and costs range from $15 to $50. You should first have a professional cleaning done by a dental hygienist, who will remove much of the surface staining and any calculus buildup, thus making OTC products you use more effective.
For internal tooth stains, however, you may want to schedule a professional whitening at your dentist’s office or have a dentist make trays that you can wear at night. The in-office process is more dramatic and much faster than OTC methods because it involves a stronger bleaching agent and laser or heat light to boost results. The good news is that it takes only 30 to 60 minutes. The bad news is that in-office whitening can cost upward of $500; bleach trays are around $250 to $500.
One note of caution: Tooth-colored fillings, crowns, veneers, bonding, and bridges don’t whiten, so be sure to discuss previous dental work with your practitioner if you go this route.
To improve the shape of your teeth or to repair broken, uneven teeth, you have essentially three options: bonding, crowns, and veneers. Bonding is typically used to repair small cracks, visible front surface decay, and chips in teeth. It’s fairly affordable at a few hundred dollars to $1,000 per tooth, but it can stain, darken, and chip. “Crowns are the gold standard for tooth repair. Crowns are used to fix broken teeth, in bridges or atop dental implants to replace missing teeth, to restore proper bite by restoring length in teeth that have been ground down with age, or cosmetically along with veneers as part of a Smile Makeover” says Dr. Mary Swift, award-winning cosmetic dentist and founder of Dallas Laser Dentistry. “Veneers are best used cosmetically to transform your smile, not simply repair it, and allow an experienced cosmetic dentist to optimize your smile based upon the shape of your face and lips.” But veneers don’t come cheap: Cost is around $1,000 to $4,000 per tooth.
Dentists and dental surgeons usually recommend gum grafting to cover the area of the tooth that is exposed when gums recede. In the past, this was a pretty painful procedure, because tissue had to be harvested from the roof of the patient’s mouth. But there’s a new technique that Dr. Marashi calls a game-changer. “Now, existing gum can be lifted up and repositioned downward to cover the exposed area. The results are fantastic. It can be done as an outpatient procedure; at most there is gum soreness for a few days, but nothing serious.” Cost depends on how many teeth are treated and typically ranges from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
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