We all know the importance of dental hygiene for general good health, but did you know your teeth may also be making you look older than you are? Here’s how to fix the four main factors that contribute to an aging smile—both short- and long-term.
White teeth look healthy and young, yet “over the years, your teeth’s protective enamel thins, becoming less white and more prone to stains,” according to Dr. Emmanuel Layliev,, director of the New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry in New York City.
Cheap fix: Proper oral hygiene can keep tooth enamel stronger longer. Plus, brushing and flossing regularly removes surface stains as well as food particles that cause staining. Steering clear of common stain-inducing foods and beverages (anything dark-colored or high in acid) and munching on crunchy snacks can also help. For at-home whitening, pick up a DIY kit that contains peroxide, the same bleaching agent used in dentist offices. “At-home systems use a lower concentration and thus take longer to achieve results, but can still work comparably to a professional in-office system,” says Layliev.
Long-term smile solution: At the dentist’s office, whitening options like Zoom offer much faster stain-reducing results—with a higher price tag. Some offices also offer a service known as microdentabrasion: It’s done using an instrument called a Prophy Jet that propels a water and baking soda mixture at high speeds onto the surface of the teeth to “power wash” away stains. The treatment runs about $100 to $150 and can be done as often as you’d like as it does not harm the teeth or gums and causes no sensitivity.
Shortened Front Teeth
When you smile and reveal little or none of your upper teeth, you can look toothless and thus older. “It’s an important visual cue that signifies youth to see your teeth when you smile,” says Dr. Jeffrey Spiegel, chief of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Boston University School of Medicine. As we get older, though, those upper teeth become shorter. “By the time you reach 40, the two upper-front center teeth are as much as two millimeters shorter than they were in your 20s,” says Layliev. Shorter top teeth can also cause your lips to sag inward, creating a thin, tight-looking smile instead of one that’s fuller, softer and more youthful.
Cheap fix: Lip plumping products can make your lips look fuller and help boost some of the volume in your lips. They also help smooth out the wrinkles in your mouth so your smile looks less lined.
Long-term smile solution: During a process called bonding, dentists can place a composite, tooth-colored material over your teeth to add length. This material is porous, though, so it will pick up stains over time. Spiegel and other surgeons can also perform what is known as a lip lift, which raises your upper lip slightly, revealing more of your teeth. Under local anesthesia, your surgeon will make a small incision right under your nose, where your upper lip meets your nose, then remove some of the tissue that’s pulling your lip down. The few stitches needed are removed after a week, leaving a small and hardly visible scar that’s easily concealed with makeup. The price of the procedure can run between $2,500 and $4,000, but the results are permanent.
Chipped and Cracked Teeth
“Thinning enamel and years of wear can cause fine cracks on the surface of your teeth,” says Layliev. Besides being just a cosmetic issue, these cracks, as well as noticeable chips, can also trap food and drink particles that darken and stain teeth and lead to decay.
Cheap fix: A dentist can help smooth out cracks in your teeth and round out edges that have been chipped. This service isn’t exactly low-cost—it can range from $450 to $650 per arch—but the health risks of leaving teeth in disrepair may justify the cost. Just be sure to see someone who specializes in cosmetic dentistry so they keep teeth in proportion and don’t make them too short.
Long-term smile solution: “To repair chips and cracks, we can use bonding or porcelain veneers,” says New York City dentist Lana Rozenberg. Porcelain veneers are the more expensive option, but they are much stronger and more durable than the composite material used in bonding.
General Tooth Wear and Tear
Years of putting your teeth to use smoothes and flattens tooth edges and dulls their surfaces. “The tiny ripples at the bottom of your teeth and the slight ridges on their surface give your teeth dimension, character and youthfulness,” says Layliev. As teeth wear down, they can look boxy and less natural.
Cheap Fix: Adding dimension to teeth without the help of a dentist may not be possible, but there’s plenty you can do to put a stop to any future wear. “Try to avoid chewing on ice chips or hard candy, since these habits tend to wear down teeth more as well as cause chips and crack in the teeth,” suggests Rozenberg. And while there’s no way to prevent teeth from wearing down when you eat, you can wear a night guard while you sleep to prevent grinding. See your dentist about having a custom-fitted guard created.
Long-term smile solution: Bonding and porcelain veneers are both used to restore teeth to their original state, though both can be pricey, depending on the number of teeth you intend to repair.