A smile is often the first thing you notice about a person. It lights up your face and, if you have a nice one, can make you more attractive. Some even think a nice smile can turn back the clock.
One 2011 study determined that people found smiling faces to be more attractive and youthful -- with some faces deemed up to three years younger when they had a smile on!
But what if you don't have a Hollywood megawatt grin? Decades of chewing, grinding and sipping through your teeth can leave your smile a little lackluster. And receding gum lines, yellowing and shifting can make for an aging smile.
Luckily, there are plenty of little steps you can take to preserve and protect your smile.
1. Go sugarless.
Dry mouth is a common complaint as we get older. There are hundreds of medications on the market that list dry mouth as a side effect -- including those used for incontinence and blood pressure. These drugs cause our mouths to produce less saliva, causing discomfort and making swallowing more difficult. But less saliva is also bad news for your oral health as saliva is what helps prevent decay and infections in the mouth.
The NIH recommends chewing on sugarless gum or sucking (not biting) on sugarless candy to help keep the saliva flow going in your mouth. These are also a great alternative to sugary candy and drinks -- such as juices and sodas-- that create acids in the mouth which eat away at your precious tooth enamel. But just be careful, as sugar-free products can sometimes cause stomach upset.
2. Avoid stains.
Discolored teeth are instantly aging. "As we get older, our teeth do get darker,"American Dental Association spokesman Richard Price told The Huffington Post. Price says that as we age, the internal part of the tooth begins to shrink, while the amount of dentin -- which is yellowish -- increases. As the enamel wears down, we see more and more of the dentin showing through.
To blame are our diets and lifestyle choices. Red wine, some carbonated drinks, coffee and teas can all cause surface stains. "Anything that will stain a carpet will stain your teeth," Price said.
But if you just can't resist your morning cuppa, try switching from black tea to green or herbal teas which are less likely to stain. And while you may be tempted to brush your teeth immediately afterwards, it's best to swish with water and then wait at least 30 minutes before you brush, so you don't damage your enamel.
3. Cut back on snacking.
We know snacking can be bad for our waistline, but it's also not great for our oral health. Frequent snacking, like munching on those potato chips at your desk or sipping a can of cola, can keep the acid levels high in your mouth for an extended time as you snack throughout the day. Sugar is obviously found in junk foods, but also in things like bread and cereal. They produce acids which, in turn, contribute to a breakdown of your tooth enamel. Price also says to avoid hard candies, which are akin to "bathing your teeth in sugar," while you suck on them all day.
If you must snack, Price recommends snacking on things like celery sticks or cucumber slices, that won't linger on your teeth.
4. Whiten and brighten.
As we age and our enamel thins out, we're bound to lose some of the pearliness of our teeth. Depending on which route you want to go and how much you want to spend, there are a variety of whitening products on the market which can help you get your teeth several shades whiter. Over-the-counter strips are a more economical option which you can do from the comfort of your home. You can also get custom-made whitening trays to fit your teeth with a trip to the dentist that usually have more potent whitening power. If you don't want to fuss with whitening at home, your dentist can do an in-office session as well, with options like laser whitening and bleaching. It's best to talk to your dentist before using any of these options, to discuss what's best for you. Treatments can sometimes cause sensitivity and gum irritation, so Price says you should always start a bleaching regimen under your dentist's supervision.
5. Fight inflammation.
Food or bacteria around the tooth that enter your bloodstream can lead to inflammation. And that inflammation can contribute to chronic diseases in the body, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
According to Price, anything that's good for your body is also good for your oral health. "Skin does two things: it keeps blood in and germs out. Gums are skin," he explains. "If you're brushing and your gums are inflamed, they're more apt to bleed. When they bleed, there's a hole in the skin for blood to get out and germs to get in."
Brushing and flossing properly -- for at least two minutes -- twice a day can help keep inflammation at bay. There are other foods that you can include in your diet that are also thought to keep inflammation at bay. Foods like fatty fish, which are rich in Omega-3s, beets, kale, tomatoes, blueberries and garlic are also known to help fight inflammation. Many spices, including turmeric, cinnamon and ginger, have also been known to help.
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