We all know the effects that lines and wrinkles can have on our appearance, but did you know that your smile could be making you look older?
Typically we attribute the signs of ageing to sun damage or just getting older. However, it’s rare that we consider our teeth to be a major player in how we’re ageing.
Not only can your teeth affect your smile but they can also dramatically age your appearance, causing your entire face to appear tired, prematurely aged and even angry.
“It’s been scientifically proven by tracking eye movement that the most common place people look when you’re talking to them are your eyes and mouth,” says cosmetic dentist Dr Neil Lutton from Macquarie Dental in Sydney.
“Due to this, a bad smile can severely impact the assessment of your age. A new smile can knock years off your appearance.”
As you get older, everyday wear and tear can take its toll on your teeth. The good news is the shape and colour of your teeth are problems that are easy to fix. We take a look at five ways your smile can make you look older and how you can fix it.
1. Discoloured & stained teeth
The number-one way that your teeth can make you look older is through discolouration and staining.
As we age, our teeth naturally darken because of the colour they absorb from certain foods and drinks such as red wine, coffee and tea.
“The very outer layer of the enamel is constantly dissolving and re-precipitating. As this process occurs, any staining elements in the mouth such as coffee, tea and red wine can become trapped in the tooth as it re-precipitates. This causes the tooth to become darker and darker as time progresses,” says Dr Lutton.
No matter how well you take care of your teeth, stained or discoloured teeth are inevitable and they will not go back to a lighter colour on their own.
How to fix it
Just as the whites of your eyes suggest youthfulness and health, a shiny white set of teeth can make your face look a whole lot younger.
The only way to reverse the staining and discolouring of your teeth is with a bleaching or whitening treatment. In-clinic whitening treatments will yield the best results, but at-home whitening kits can achieve a good colour change and are easy and cost effective to maintain. You can also use these at-home kits to maintain your professional treatment results.
For dark grey or black stains, whitening may only do so much, and veneers, which physically cover up the stains and also act like a brand new set of teeth, may need to be considered.
2. Crooked or crowded teeth
Crowded or uneven teeth not only contribute to physical stress and strain on your teeth but can also make you look much older than you actually are. When your teeth don’t fit into place due to shifting, they can crowd your mouth, causing unwanted attention to visible imperfections such as chips, staining or discolouration. Even if you start out with perfectly straight teeth, something called medial drift can cause them to shift over time.
Crooked or crowded teeth can make your smile look narrow, which is the opposite of what you want as a wider smile is seen as more attractive and youthful. Crowded teeth can also chip easily and are prone to receding gums, premature bone loss, tooth decay and exposed roots, which make them look long (ever heard the expression ‘long in the tooth’!?).
Remember, you are never too old to straighten your teeth! Healthy teeth can be moved at any age and can take 10-15 years off your appearance.
How to fix it
The most reliable and permanent way to straighten your teeth is with traditional braces, Invisalign or the newest alternative, Quick Straight Teeth. The latter is an innovative teeth straightening treatment that offers both invisible fixed and removable braces at an affordable price – and promises to fix crooked teeth in as little as six months.
3. Excess gum display
You wouldn’t think of your gums as an age accelerator, but they certainly can be. A gummy smile, which can occur naturally or be a result of ageing, shows more of your gums than teeth. As a result, this can create a short, worn-down smile making you look older than you are. It can also affect the proportions of your lips, making them look thinner.
How to fix it
Excessive gum tissue can be trimmed away in a fairly quick and minimally invasive procedure called gingivectomy. This procedure usually takes around 15 minutes to an hour, where the gum line is reshaped using a scalpel or laser.
The procedure will make your smile more attractive and importantly can also help keep gum disease at bay by helping you to clean more effectively around and between your teeth. In more severe cases surgery may be required, or an orthodontic option for teeth that are out of alignment.
4. Missing teeth
While a missing tooth at the front of your smile can certainly make you look older, a fact that is less obvious is that even missing teeth in the back of your mouth can change your appearance.
Missing teeth, no matter where they are located, affect the structure of the mouth. The primary issue is bone loss in the jaw, which is an inevitable consequence of leaving a toothless gap in the mouth.
Since the teeth and jawbone provide support for the cheeks and lips, missing teeth and the results of bone erosion can cause some unwanted changes to your appearance. Over time, your lips and cheeks will collapse inwards due to the lack of facial support. This results in a saggy, wrinkled look that can add years to your appearance.
How to fix it
If you have missing teeth, dental implants can offer you a long-lasting solution to provide a structure that reflects that of the natural tooth. Dental implants replace the tooth root with an artificial root that is surgically placed into the upper or lower jawbone. Implants help protect against bone loss and the aged look it creates, and they feel and function just like natural teeth.
5. Clenching and grinding
While it’s not an easy habit to crack, teeth grinding and clenching is a problem for more than 50% of adults (according to RealSelf.com) and is a contributing factor to an ageing smile.
Whether it’s due to stress, irregular sleeping patterns or nothing at all, this chronic grinding can wear down your upper and lower teeth and actually cause major changes in the structure of your jaw. This can make you look years older than you actually are due to a loss of youthful definition. Your bite can also be affected, causing a misalignment of the jaw as your chin projects forward, making the lower third of your face appear squished.
“Grinding and clenching, or bruxism, will exacerbate the natural wear of the teeth. Therefore, if someone is 30 years old and a heavy grinder, 10-15 years can be added to their facial appearance due to extreme wear,” says Dr Lutton.
How to fix it
One of the few actions you can take on your own is to wear a night guard. While it will not get to the root of the cause, it will stop the teeth from excessive wear and can maintain the soft lines of the jaw by keeping the muscles from bring overworked.
Often your teeth become so worn down by excessive grinding and clenching that they will need to be restored with crowns or veneers, which build up the length of your teeth. If your bite needs adjusting, orthodontics can reposition it.
Tips to maintain your smile
- The number-one tip is great oral hygiene, which includes brushing flossing/interdental cleaning, and an effective mouthwash.
- Book regular appointments to visit your dentist and hygienist to keep your teeth clean and to avoid gum disease.
- Wear a night guard or occlusal splint to prevent nocturnal grinding (bruxism). This can also act like an orthodontic retainer, keeping the teeth in position and resisting unwanted tooth movements caused by age.
- Cut down on red wine, black coffee and highly coloured foods.
- No smoking!
- Use sunblock and a lip balm that has a high SPF to prevent sun damage, which will intensify and speed up the loss of elasticity in the lips.