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Help! My teeth seem to be changing, what on earth is happening?

Just like any other part of the body, teeth are also affected by age related changes and while it may seem that losing teeth happens with no warning, things have been going on in the mouth long before teeth start to fall out.

As live-in carers, it can often be difficult to register with a dentist because we tend to move around often, or we may only get to visit our own dentist once a year or even less. It can be scary to feel that our teeth are changing, and not know why or what to do about the changes.

What are teeth made of?

The crown of the tooth is made of hard enamel. This coats and surrounds the softer, brownish dentine, which then protects a centrally located area.

Enamel is an intricate weave of honeycomb clustered strands which all interact to give teeth their pearly, milky appearance.

Dentine, which is under the enamel is the part that forms most of the tooth crown and root. This is made of mineral water, collagen and proteins. 

These strands differ from enamel because they are woven in such a way that they can stretch and spring back. It is this that helps prevent our teeth from cracking and breaking as we grind and chew.

The centre area, called the pulp is composed of blood vessels and nerves which send messages to the rest of the body.

How do teeth change as people get older?

As the dentine starts to lose its spring, the teeth become brittle and more prone to fracturing. This is often more common in cases where there have been large fillings and root canal work, or even existing cracks.

In time, the outer surface, namely the enamel, starts to thin and this is when we might notice the darker dentine showing through. The dentine starts to darken further when the collagen weave shrinks and stiffens. 

Teeth stains are caused by food and drink particles which fill micro gaps and age related crack lines. This will start to discolour the teeth.

Can we extend the life of teeth?

While most teeth will show signs of wearing as we age, there are some things that we can do to extend the life of teeth and keep them in a healthy condition.

Avoid using teeth as tools

Try not to open packages or bottle tops with your teeth, and if you habitually grind your teeth at night you may want to take measures to stop this, perhaps by using a night guard.

If you have root canal teeth or very large fillings, then you should discuss ways with your dentist to use specific filling materials to prevent teeth from cracking or breaking.

Chew evenly

As you chew you may want to think about chewing on all teeth on both sides rather than favouring just one side or a specific tooth. 

If you have missing teeth then talk to your dentist about dentures to support your bite. Make sure that you get dentures checked regularly to ensure that they fit correctly. Dentures should be replaced every ten years.

Use the correct toothbrush and paste

Opt for soft bristled brushes to protect the enamel. Also try non abrasive toothpastes. Be aware that some whitening toothpastes can contain abrasives which will wear the surface of your teeth. Ideally, stick with toothpastes marked as sensitive.

How do we maintain good oral health?

Tooth loss takes place with injury and decay, and hard as it may seem to believe, is not an inevitable part of getting older. By maintaining good oral health it is possible to reduce the risk of losing teeth as we get older.

Floss and brush often

Ideally you should brush your teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day to remove food particles which will lodge between teeth.

Stop smoking and limit alcohol intake

Both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption will increase the chances of losing a tooth. Both can lead to tooth decay and gum disease which will increase the chances of losing teeth.

Watch your diet

A diet which is rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains is essential for general well-being, but also helps prevent tooth loss. Fruits and vegetables ensure your body gets the right vitamins and minerals to support strong teeth and healthy gums.

Manage stress and get some exercise

Regular exercise boosts circulation which in turn strengthens bones, teeth and gums as we get older. 

Stress relieving techniques such as yoga will also lower the risk of grinding and clenching your teeth, both of which can cause your teeth to break down over time.

Visit your dentist

At all ages, regular visits to the dentist are vital to treat oral problems before they become serious. Additionally, regular visits will ensure that your dentist spots early health issues before they worsen.

Final thoughts

While it can be extremely worrying to see changes in our own, and those of our clients, the good news is that we can prolong any damage and tooth loss with simple steps, at any time of life. 

Most importantly, if you suspect that you have dental problems, you should try to see a dentist as soon as possible and have them evaluate gum and teeth health.  

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