Have you ever thought about straightening your teeth?
I ask this question to patients in my practice almost every single day during initial examinations. I get the full spectrum of answers, as you might imagine. I find that the older the patient is, the less likely it is they have any interest in straightening their teeth. If there are significant issues with crowding, spaces, teeth not lining up properly, or excessive wear, many adults should straighten their teeth, especially older adults. Here’s why.
- Straighter teeth are less likely to have cavities or gum problems. Hygiene isn’t the only component to a patient’s risk for getting dental decay or gum disease, but it is a significant component. Straight teeth are easier to clean than teeth that aren’t, for patients and their dental hygienist. Teeth that are crowded are more likely to trap food. It is also harder to get a toothbrush and floss to cover all the surfaces of teeth that are crowded on top of each other. When patients take advantage of orthodontic treatment to move teeth into their proper position, they lower the risk of having cavities and gum problems for the rest of their life.
- Straighter teeth are easier for a dentist to fix. Let’s say that you unfortunately get a cavity on a tooth in an area of your mouth that has severe crowding, or that you begin to experience bone loss around teeth in an area of your mouth with significant crowding. In some of these cases, it may be difficult or impossible to treat the area in a conservative fashion because of the position of the teeth. I’ve seen cases where a tooth had a cavity that was small enough to be treated with a simple filling if the tooth was in an easy to access position. Because the tooth was in such a crowded spot, it turned out that a crown would be the only predictable way to treat the cavity on the tooth. If the tooth wasn’t so badly out of position, the treatment would have been much more conservative. In more extreme circumstances, I’ve seen situations where patients developed severe gum infections in areas of their mouth where the teeth were crowded. Had the teeth not been so crowded, the condition may not have ever arisen. When it came time for treatment, extracting the teeth was the only predictable option, whereas if the crowded hasn’t been as severe, a deep cleaning may have solved the problem and allowed the patient to keep their teeth. Crowded teeth that require dental treatment often force the dentist and the patient into much more aggressive treatment options with lower chances of success.
- Our risk for cavities and gum problems increases as we get older. Believe it or not, there are many people out there with crowded teeth that have never had a problem with their gums and never had a cavity. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this change in a hurry. Saliva does many things, but one of its most important roles is plays in our body is protecting our teeth and gums from the bacteria that cause disease. As we age, our saliva production decreases and this increases our chances of dental problems. Many medications that older adults take decrease saliva production and increase our risk for dental diseases. As a patient’s risk increases, the importance of other risk factors begins to multiply. An adult that’s had moderate to severe crowding their whole life with no problems may develop dental problems seemingly overnight when decreased saliva flow becomes part of the picture. It’s as if normal saliva flow was masking the severity of the problem all those years, and the moment it decreased the “crowding problem” actually became a problem with consequences. Another consequence of aging is losing the dexterity to brush and floss easily. Once again, straighter teeth are easier to clean for your entire life!
Those are my three reasons older adults should consider straightening their teeth, and not once did I mention cosmetics. I’ve found many older adults in San Antonio feel that straightening their teeth is all vanity and superficial looks kind of stuff. They scoff at the idea of orthodontics as something only for people who have a problem with the way they look. When they begin to understand that the discussion is about minimizing health risks, preparing for inevitable health risk changes, and increasing the chances of success if they do require dental treatment, they realize that straight teeth isn’t just about looks. Having a healthier looking smile, that’s just a bonus.
If you’re looking for a dentist in San Antonio contact me and I’d be happy to set you on the right path for healthy teeth for a lifetime. My wife and I own the practice, so you will always see one of us.