A senior patient smiling at her teeth at an appointment with a dentist, having their checkup and dental exam. The female dentist is examining her patient in a kind manner. The senior woman, patient, is smiling after the checkup!

How to Keep Your Teeth for Life

August 23, 2022

Teeth outlast many other body parts, but they’re not indestructible. Like the rest of the body, teeth age. Enamel wears off over time, especially if exposed to foods and drink high in acid. Without the protection that enamel provides, teeth are vulnerable to decay and infection.

You can protect yourself against tooth loss and procedures like root canals through oral hygiene at home (daily brushing and flossing), and two visits to the dentist every year. We spoke to dentist Leelah Jaberi, DDS, to find out exactly how to keep teeth for your whole life.  

How long should teeth last? 

If you take care of your teeth every day, they will last for your entire life. Losing teeth only happens when someone does not brush and floss every day and does not go to a dentist. 

Why do teeth fall out when people get older? 

Usually, teeth do not fall out when you age. Sometimes, when teeth have not been cared for, they need to be removed (AKA extracted) for these reasons: 

  • Bone loss 
    • Bone loss is a decrease in the amount of jaw bone that surrounds a tooth. Significant bone loss without intervention (going to a dentist) makes the teeth loose. 
  • Extensive caries (AKA large cavities) 
    • Bacteria that naturally occur in the mouth take sugar from food and drink and in the process produce acid that erodes enamel, destroys tooth structure, and creates cavities in teeth. Brushing and flossing remove this bacteria and prevent cavities. If bacteria are not removed, in addition to cavities, the gums become inflamed. Chronic inflammation damages and reduces the bone supporting the teeth.  
  • Fracture 
    • Teeth weakened by large cavities or bone loss are at risk of fracture. 

What is periodontitis? 

Gum inflammation accompanied by bone loss is called periodontitis. Periodontitis is preventable but not reversible. It usually happens because of poor oral hygiene. 

Is there a typical age people reach when they’re in danger of losing teeth? 

No. Aging is not a contributing factor to tooth loss if people take care of their teeth every day.  

Adding fluoride to public water dramatically reduced the prevalence of tooth decay in the United States and is considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century, according to the CDC.   

Jaberi has had patients in their 90s with minimal tooth loss, and a healthy mouth because they took care of their teeth through the years. 

How to keep your teeth for life 

Tips for people of all ages:  

  • Go to a dentist every six months for a checkup and cleaning.  
    • Your dentist can give you advice specific to your own teeth. 
  • Keep up a daily home care routine 
    • Brush twice a day.  
    • Use toothpaste with fluoride 
    • Floss once a day.  

References

More information

Find a dentist and more information about oral health on the ColumbiaDoctors Dentistry website

Leelah Jaberi, DDS, is assistant professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.