In Your 20s & 30s
The State of Your Smile
Your teeth and gums are healthy—especially if you’ve been heeding the well-known advice: Brush at least twice and floss once daily; see your dentist twice a year.
Keep an Eye On
Sensitivity: As you age, your gums naturally recede, which exposes the roots of the teeth; also, enamel starts to soften. Both can trigger that zingy feeling when you eat something cold. Proper brushing is key to avoiding receding gums, says dentist Robert E. Roesch, a Fremont, Nebraska–based spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. Use a soft-bristled brush (manual or electric), and “hold it at a 45- to 60-degree angle toward your gums,” he says. Gently brush up and down, not side to side; the latter can be hard on gums. To strengthen enamel, choose a toothpaste and a mouth rinse (to use after brushing) with fluoride, says Emanuel Layliev, a dentist and the director of the New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, in New York City.
Stress: Stress can make you gnash your teeth—literally. Gnashing, a.k.a. tooth grinding, “often occurs while you’re asleep, so you’re not even aware of it,” says Jacqueline Fulop-Goodling, an orthodontist in New York City. Grinding wears down the tops of teeth and increases the risk of cavities. See your dentist if you frequently wake up with headaches or a sore jaw; he can fit you with a protective mouth guard to wear at night.
Your daily soda: “The acid content in soda erodes enamel,” says dentist Anthony Iacopino, a Winnipeg, Manitoba–based spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Use a straw to limit the liquid’s contact with teeth, and rinse your mouth with water after you drink. And, odd as it seems, don’t brush right after you have acidic drinks (or acidic foods, such as citrus fruits)—this can actually exacerbate erosion.
Braces work at any age, so it’s not too late to fix a crooked smile. The traditional wire variety and Invisalign, clear braces that you can remove, work equally well. And today the costs are comparable—on average, about $5,000 for a 10- to 12-month course of treatment. So the choice is mainly a cosmetic one.