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The Effects of Aging on Teeth (Part Two)

Dental care is important throughout life because we keep our adult teeth for many decades — sometimes a long as 90 years or more! But how exactly does aging affect teeth and what are common problems seen as we age? And what can be done to stop the hands of time from negatively impacting our oral health?

The second in our series of blogs about aging and dental health covers tooth discoloration, and what can be done to correct the problem.

It’s just a fact that as we age, our teeth are likely to become increasingly discolored. Reasons for this vary, but it’s generally a combination of factors including diet, quality of professional dental care/in-home dental care routine, and whether or not an individual smokes.

Additionally, the outer protective layer of your teeth — the enamel — naturally wears down and thins out over time, which exposes the underlying material called dentin, which is yellowish in color. This type of yellowing is unfortunately unavoidable. However, discoloration due to diet and quality of care are not. Foods such as red wine, coffee and tea are all very hard on your teeth and often lead to discoloration.

How can you naturally keep your teeth whiter? Using a lightening product, such as cream or milk, in your coffee or tea can help mitigate some of the yellowing effects. Drinking water with these types of beverages can also help tame their effects on our teeth (red wine in particular) as can eating foods that are crunchy as they will prevent stains from sticking.

Surprisingly to most, we do not recommend that you brush immediately after consuming most discoloring foods or beverages as many tend to contain acid. When you brush right away, you risk brushing away enamel (the very thing we need to ensure whiter teeth) that has become softened from its exposure to acid. Waiting twenty minutes gives your enamel time to recover.

Luckily, discoloration is generally not difficult to treat, and it can be quite inexpensive as well. Your dentist can perform in-office professional whitening for around $200, and the results are both fast and noticeable. Home whitening systems such as Crest 3D White can also be effective when used correctly, and can be purchased for as little as $50. However, it’s important to remember that whitening is a medical procedure and should be done responsibly — never more than twice a year.

Gray teeth are another matter completely. This condition generally has nothing to do with aging, diet, or quality of dental care. Instead, gray teeth are the result of being exposed to the antibiotic tetracycline, either in utero, or when adult teeth are still forming (prior to age 8). This drug causes the enamel to be darker than normal. It is no longer given to young children or pregnant women. If you were exposed to tetracycline, your teeth will continue to become grayer with time.

Unfortunately, there is no way to get the grey out when it’s caused by medication. But you can cover it up! Products such as Lumineers, a new, painless alternative to traditional porcelain veneers, can help you achieve a whiter, brighter, and still natural-looking smile.

If you are concerned about discoloration, give our Ann Arbor dental office a call to schedule a free consultation at 734-677-2156 or contact us via our website. We want to help make the smile of your dreams a reality!

– Dr. Shannon Norman-Kotre, Ann Arbor Dentist

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