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The Aging Mouth: What's Normal, What's Not

The natural process of aging takes it’s toll on your teeth and your mouth just as it does your body. Here are some common oral health changes you can anticipate as you age:

Enamel Wear: Chewing, brushing, grinding, clenching and the normal aging process means your teeth will eventually wear down over time. The teeth can adapt to the wear and sensitivity is usually not a problem as the teeth adapt to the change. If the teeth are very worn and sensitivity occurs, then some dental treatment like fillings, crowns, or root canals may be needed to protect the teeth from further wear. A night guard might also be prescribed to prevent further wear of the enamel.

Darker Tooth Color: Aging dentin (the tooth’s middle layer) holds stains easier than younger dentin, making your teeth appear slightly darker. Rougher enamel or enamel that is chipped or worn will also appear darker as it picks up and holds more stain. Root surfaces that can be exposed from the natural aging process of gum recession will also appear darker. Routine xrays should be taken of darker teeth to make sure the nerve of the tooth is healthy and that a cavity is not causing a darker appearance of the tooth.

Gum Changes:  Aging gums naturally recede over time. However, if excessive amount of recession occurs the roots exposed can become very sensitive or more prone to form a cavity. Recession should be tracked over time so it does not progress to this point.

Cavities: Cavities can form at any age, and we often see them in the aging dentition. This is usually due to dry mouth and because more root surface is exposed. Cavities around the root of the tooth are more common as you age. The root surface is more porous and rough, so bacteria and plaque can attack it more easily.

Other changes to your teeth and gums should be evaluated by a dentist regularly and as soon as you notice a change or symptom.

Tooth Loss: Dental cavities and gum disease are the leading culprits of tooth loss in seniors, but neither is a normal part of aging. Keeping your teeth and gums healthy throughout your life will help maintain your oral health and prevent teeth from being lost.

Dry Mouth: As you age, you may notice a reduced flow rate of saliva. This is sometimes a side effect of medical conditions, medications, or medical treatment. Saliva is important because it lubricates the mouth and neutralizes the acid produced by bacteria in the mouth.

Bleeding Gums: Bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease, a leading cause of tooth loss in seniors. But gum disease is not an inevitable result of aging; it is caused by a build up of plaque. If the periodontal disease is too far advanced it can lead to premature tooth loss. Left untreated, gum disease is linked to other health concerns like diabetes and heart disease.


While the natural process of aging does result in changes in the teeth, as always, you should see a dentist regularly to evaluate the changes and ensure your health is maintained. Losing teeth due to cavities or gum disease has its consequences of difficulty chewing and speaking. Your diet may have to change to softer, more bland foods if many teeth are lost. Replacement teeth are expensive and never work as well as your own teeth. Appearances may change, as well, as missing teeth can be an embarrassment for many people of any age. Maintaining your oral health, which includes routine dental visits, should continue throughout life to ensure your overall health and happiness.