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Planning Retirement Online

Long in the tooth!

November 2011 

Long in the tooth!In the past, when we went to the dentist it was all about teeth and cavities and fillings. I even remember the dark old days when mercury was used as a filling material.

Now a modern dentist will pay as much attention to your gums as to your teeth, and as we age it is more likely we might begin to suffer from gum recession. That old saying Long in the Tooth didn’t mean that teeth were actually growing longer - it was because as gums receded, the teeth looked longer. So gum recession is clearly not a new problem – just one that has only recently been properly addressed.

The most common cause of gum recession is gum disease. This is usually caused by bacteria in the mouth. Obviously as we eat, food is spread around our teeth. Left over pieces can quickly decay, causing bacteria which bonds with the teeth and can form plaque. This irritates and then inflames gums, and finally can develop into a wedge between tooth and gum. The bacteria gradually erodes away the gum tissue causing the gums to “recede” and expose more tooth.

Diseased gums can manifest themselves in a number of ways; they can appear bright red and begin to bleed, especially when you are brushing your teeth; they can become swollen and tender; you can become sensitive to hot and cold food and drinks, and of course finally, teeth can become loose and even fall out.

Interestingly, receding gums can also be linked to more serious conditions such as stroke, heart attack and diabetes. So anyone with receding gums needs to get them checked as quickly as possible.

Because the main cause is the build up of harmful bacteria in the mouth, cleaning the teeth regularly is obviously key. A good toothpaste and flossing to help clean out between teeth can make an enormous difference. There are also some good mouthwashes that can in some cases be useful, although some products are said to result in brown staining if used over a long period and alcohol-based mouthwashes are not recommended by many dentists.

Certain foods are related to an increased risk of gum problems, food such as certain processed foods, sugar and sugary foods definitely do not help.

Along with a good brushing regime, a regular check up by the hygienist at your dentist is also important. Interestingly, the saliva in our mouth is very rich in oxygen and important enzymes that help to fight harmful bacteria but without proper oral hygiene saliva alone won’t necessarily prevent the development of gum disease.

Ensuring you keep your mouth as clean as possible won’t stop you ageing, but it will help stop you becoming long in the tooth!


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