In Your 40s
The State of Your Smile
Structurally, it hasn’t changed much since your teens. “When I see an X-ray of a healthy mouth, it’s hard to tell whether the person is 85 or 25,” says Fulop-Goodling. (See? All that flossing was worth it.)
Keep an Eye On
Older fillings: “White resin fillings last for about 8 to 10 years, and silver fillings last for up to twice as long,” says Iacopino. Beyond that, fillings start to wear down, become loose, or crack, allowing bacteria to seep in, which causes decay. Your dentist can identify fillings that need to be replaced. The same rule applies to bridges and crowns.
Your gums: There’s a link between periodontitis, or gum disease, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, not to mention diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. A recent study in the Journal of Periodontology reported that at least 23 percent of women aged 30 to 54 have periodontitis. If your gums are sore or red, or if they bleed when you floss, talk to your dentist. She may refer you to a periodontist, who can properly diagnose the condition and discuss treatment options, from more in-depth cleanings to, in rare cases, gum surgery.
Your exercise level: Believe it or not, your fitness level may determine the health of your smile. In a 2010 study in the Journal of Periodontology that looked at 1,160 healthy people, those who had the lowest body mass indexes (BMI) and the highest fitness levels were at the lowest risk for periodontal disease. Although researchers aren’t sure of the reason for this, people who take care of their bodies seem to take better care of their teeth. “The healthiest mouths I see are usually in the fittest patients,” says Donald Clem, a periodontist in Fullerton, California.
Decades of coffee and red wine may have dimmed your pearly whites. An easy fix that works at any age: whitening, whether at home or done professionally. Just be sure you don’t overdo it. “Overuse can remove enamel, the hard white surface of the tooth,” says Iacopino, and leave you worse off than when you started. Also, the ingredients in whitening products can cause sensitivity; a prebleach fluoride rinse may help, as can using a toothpaste for sensitive teeth afterward.