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The reality is, our bodies change throughout the years—even if you eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. So does this mean your smile changes with age, too? Yes, your smile does change with age. 

Why Does Your Smile Change As You Age?

So why? For starters, your jawbone—like all the bones in your body—goes through “bone remodeling” throughout your life. At about 10% each year of your adult life, your jawbone breaks down and is replaced by new jawbone cells. So the jawbone you had at 20 years old isn’t the same as the one you will have 40 years later. 

Your teeth also go through decades of chewing and eating, which can change their health, shape, and functionality by the time you’re older.

Smile Changes You Might Notice As Your Age

What does an aging smile look like? From your enamel wearing down to your bite alignment deepening, let’s talk about the most common smile changes you might notice as you get older.

1. Teeth Shifting Closer Together

Crowding teeth is a common issue that dentists and orthodontists like Dr. VanderWall see as patients age. Our jawbones weaken over time, so they don’t hold our teeth as securely as they did in our younger years. You tend to start seeing crowding of the bottom teeth first but it happens with top teeth, too. 

Teeth shifting closer together definitely changes the look of your smile. But it also affects their health and functioning. Crowding teeth create more nooks and crannies for plaque, tartar and food debris to hide. In turn, these hard-to-reach areas make it more difficult to brush thoroughly and floss, resulting in a higher likelihood of tooth decay, cavities, or gum disease.

Teeth Moving Because of Gum Disease

Speaking of gum disease, did you know it can contribute to your teeth moving? Of course, gum disease can happen to anyone at any age, but typically the longer you have it, the more severe it is. So it makes sense that older people are more likely to experience it longer and with more severe effects. Thankfully, gum disease treatment is available with antibiotics, by removing hardened plaque, or with surgery.

2. Teeth Gapping or Tilting

Do you notice that your teeth are moving further apart or tilting as you age? 

Gaps in teeth can start happening as you age for a few reasons:

  • Unproportionate jaw size to teeth
  • A long-term habit of tongue thrust—pushing your tongue against your front teeth when you swallow
  • Missing teeth from gum disease, tooth decay, injury, or genetics

Gaps or missing teeth can change your face shape and smile. Because teeth naturally want to move to fill spaces, they sometimes end up tilting out of alignment in their efforts to move towards a gap.

3. Teeth Changing Shape and Length

Do teeth really change shape with age? It may sound strange, but it happens! Years of biting and chewing cause your tooth enamel to wear down and make your teeth smaller. And if you’re prone to teeth grinding, your teeth can wear down even more. 

Conversely, teeth length can also change as you age. Well, technically, your teeth don’t grow longer but look longer because gum recession reveals more of their surfaces. If it’s any comfort, gum recession in older people is typical. In fact, one study found that 71% of people ages 50-59 and 90% of people ages 80-90 had some degree of gum recession.

So why do gums recede with age? Over time, habits like aggressive brushing, poor oral hygiene, and smoking can take their toll on gums. And like many teeth-related issues, genetics can also play a role.

Teeth that have changed shape or visible length can cause various issues: from making your teeth more prone to chipping, cracking, and sensitivity to making eating more difficult. You might also see changes in the symmetry of your smile or find that your face looks out of proportion.

4. Your Bite Changes as You Age

A question we sometimes hear is, “Does your bite change as you age?” Simply put, yes, it can. Telltale signs that your upper and lower jaw are starting to misalign include:

  • Headaches
  • Clicking or popping of jaw joints
  • Grinding your teeth when you didn’t use to
  • Back pain
  • Difficulty with chewing efficiently and effectively

A bite that changes as you age typically becomes an excessive overbite—or deep bite— which is when the upper teeth significantly overlap the lower teeth. And sometimes, the top front teeth can protrude into buck teeth.

You’ll be glad to know that overbites and buck teeth respond great to orthodontics. Dr. VanderWall can correct a smile that has misaligned with age into a smile that’s straight and beautiful.

5. Teeth Shifting Back Without Your Retainer

If you had orthodontic treatment in the past, your orthodontist most likely prescribed a retainer afterwards to help maintain your straight smile. And after many faithful years of wearing it, maybe you stopped.

Not wearing your retainer can accelerate teeth moving back to where they were before. We at VanderWall Orthodontics recommend seeing us to find out if you need a new retainer or adult orthodontic treatment to refresh your smile.

Getting Your Teeth Moving to a Straight, Healthy Smile

If your smile has changed with age and you want an orthodontist’s expertise in addressing it, Dr. VanderWall is happy to help. With innovative technology and cutting-edge treatments like InBrace™ lingual braces or Invisalign®, the VanderWall Orthodontics team can efficiently transform your smile.
Contact us at our Cary, Durham, or Raleigh, NC office to get the fantastic, functional smile you can enjoy well into your golden years.

Dr. Clay VanderWall

Author Dr. Clay VanderWall

Dr. VanderWall attended Kalamazoo College, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Health Sciences. He spent a semester doing research at the Dental Research Center of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill where he wrote his Senior Individualized Project (SIP). He furthered his studies at the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Dentistry, receiving his Doctor of Dental Surgery in 1999. He graduated with honors and was inducted into the national dental honor society, Omicron Kappa Upsilon (OKU). He also received the Pierre Fauchard Academy Student Award and was a recipient of the Health Professions Scholarship from the United States Navy.

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