The focus of anti-aging is typically skincare, which explains why most people don't forget their daily SPF application and know that retinol and vitamin C are must-have ingredients for a glowing complexion. Still, there's one area that's often overlooked and reveals our age a lot quicker than our crow's feet: Our smile.
From drinking too much coffee to ignoring the floss aisle, our teeth put the wear and tear of our daily life and habits front and center, hence why dentists stress the importance of oral care. To dive deeper, we caught up with industry-leading dentists to break down exactly what signs to look out for and habits to turn up a notch to keep our smiles at their best.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Brian Harris is a cosmetic dentist and SNOW Lead Medical Advisor. He's also the creator of Klen Products, a range of clean, modern oral care.
- Dr. Lawrence Fung is a cosmetic dentist and founder of Silicon Beach Dental. He also serves as a clinical instructor at the Center for Esthetic Dentistry at UCLA and is the current team dentist for USC Athletics.
Teeth alignment and the shape of someone's smile can reveal a lot about their age. Teeth are not secured in bone but sit in periodontal ligaments which constantly move. When you're younger, this isn't a problem because your jaw is growing, giving teeth the room to stop being overcrowded. But, as we age, we lose volume and collagen in our cheeks and mouth area (more on this later), so teeth may tip inward, get shorter, and worn down. These changes may cause crowding and changes to the face shape like decreasing the space between the tip of the nose and the chin. "When this happens it causes the bite to collapse, which makes smiles appear narrower and older,” says Dr. Brian Harris, SNOW Lead Medical Advisor.
The volume loss may also cause cheek skin sagging, which Dr. Lawrence Fung, DDS, cosmetic dentist and founder of Silicon Beach Dental says might make bottom teeth more visible. "This can result in a more tired or sunken appearance," Dr. Fung says. Adult braces and regular use of aligners or retainers can help correct misalignment and restore a younger-looking smile but Dr. Fung says to avoid over-the-counter options. "Alignment is a highly complex physics process that an orthodontist should do," he says.
The United States teeth whitening industry is expected to grow to $8.6 billion this year, proving people value a whiter smile. Enamel is the part of the tooth that gives smiles its white look, and it changes as we age. "Our enamel gets worn down, becomes thinner, and allows underlying dentin's natural yellow color to shine through," says Dr. Harris.
Stains may also change the appearance of our teeth over time. According to Dr. Fung, there are two types of stains: extrinsic and intrinsic. "The latter is below the surface, accumulates within the tooth itself, and are results of genetics and age," Dr. Fung says. Removal of intrinsic stains usually require a bleaching agent like peroxide and a trip to the dentist. Extrinsic stains, on the other hand, are located on the exterior of your teeth and are typically caused by eating and drinking things like coffee, tea, and wine. Since these stains appear on the outside, they're easier to treat with topical treatments like SNOW’s whitening toothpaste ($34), charcoal-based toothpaste (we like Moon's Charcoal Whitening Flouride Anticavity Toothpaste, $9), or whitening pens like Laughland’s To-Go Pen ($30).
Gum recession is one of the most prominent signs of oral aging,As we age, we experience bone loss including the bones under our gums. According to experts, our gums get less dense, offer less support, get shorter and thinner from chewing, clenching, and grinding, and—sometimes—even recede. "When gums recede they show more of the root, which is naturally darker," Dr. Harris explains. "Gum recession can make the teeth appear older and less white also." The best way to prevent gum recession and keep your smile healthy is to develop good habits early on. Dr. Fung says that daily flossing and reaching for a gum nourishing toothpaste, like Hello's Gum Nourishment Toothpaste ($7), can help keep your gums healthy and in optimal condition.
Loss of Collagen
Collagen is responsible for making your face firm, supple and youthful. Still, as we get older, we lose collagen in various areas. "You might start to lose collagen at the age of 20 at roughly one percent of the dermis per year," Dr. Fung says. "By the time people reach their mid-30s, they may experience visible collagen loss, and that includes the skin around your mouth and teeth."
This loss of collagen isn't the end of the world, but it may show up in the form of losing lip support and slight sagging of the cheeks. Experts say the best way to preserve the collagen in your skin is by drinking more water, eating a collagen-rich diet (with fatty acids and lots of veggies), and applying topical products with antioxidants and SPF.
The smile and mouth are important parts of the body that many of us often neglect, but should prioritize. It's easy to go on autopilot to rush through morning and evening brushing and flossing, but noticeable changes occur over time. That being said, even with inconsistent oral hygiene, there are options and treatments available at every stage to restore teeth. Still, Dr. Fung says to concentrate on regular maintenance instead of expensive office visits. He also says don't stress and—when in doubt—stick to the basics: Twice yearly dentist visits, daily brushing, regular flossing, avoiding excessive sugar and tobacco, will do your smile plenty of good.
Sulieman M. An overview of tooth discoloration: extrinsic, intrinsic and internalized stains. Dent Update. 2005;32(8):463-464, 466-468, 471.