When I saw the headline in my Google Alerts – “Reality Bites When Your Teeth Turn 45” – I just had to click the link and find out what this moaning was all about.
It was an op-ed piece in the Sydney (AU) Morning Herald – an attempt to write humorously about the physical changes that come with “old age.”
Birthday euphoria associated with my 45th last week vanished pretty quickly as the next morning, brimming with good resolutions in the dental hygiene line, I flossed my teeth with vigour. To my horror, half a tooth fell out. This sent me into a morose tailspin. So, this is what happens once you cross the 45-year-old line – your teeth fall out. I decided to abandon immediately all the healthy living birthday resolutions, such as flossing, as they obviously only usher on the inevitable at speed – and instead focus on the fun ones centred on wine, chocolate and wild partying.
Because, of course, when you have a health problem – and yes, losing part or all of a tooth you’re not supposed to lose is a health problem – you don’t want to do something to keep it from getting worse. You abandon all hope – because, so suggests the writer, it’s just a normal part of aging.
That’s the subtext. And if the writer actually and seriously believes it, well, that’s just sad.
For starters, 45 is not old by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, the body is aging, changing, slowing down. But it’s hardly falling apart – unless you’ve not taken very good care of it. And maybe that’s the case with the writer. After all, according to her article, after visiting the dentist about the tooth damage, she proceeded to eat a chewy sweet, even as she says she knew it was risky (and lost another tooth in the process).
The crux of the matter: Tooth loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process. Apart from accidents, the only time we usually lose adult teeth is when we don’t take care of them: when we eat poorly, don’t brush and floss regularly, don’t see the dentist regularly; when we smoke, take drugs (legal and illegal), drink too much, don’t exercise. Such things harm our teeth and gums, making them vulnerable to decay and disease.
Teeth don’t normally fracture on their own either. Non-accident related fractures usually result from behaviors such as chewing ice or other hard objects, or habits such as clenching and grinding. Under normal conditions and with proper care, most people’s teeth will stay intact and in their mouths for their lifetime. Only when something goes wrong might they fall out, crack or break.
The main change healthy but aging teeth experience is darkening from a lifetime of staining and normal wear and tear. This problem is easily solved by whitening or doing things to create the illusion of brightness. For instance, women can use lipstick with blue tones to create the impression that their smile is whiter.
But almost never is damage to or loss of the teeth a byproduct of aging. It’s a byproduct of the choices we make. “Getting old” is just when your choices start catching up with you.
Image by xcode, via Flickr