Your smile can clue people in to how many candles were on your last cake. "Women often think they're ready for plastic surgery, but what they really need is some dental work," says Michael Apa, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in New York City. Here are some of the most common age-related dental issues and how you can fix them -- both at the dentist's office and at home.
Remember the days when you were so diligent about wearing your retainer -- until suddenly you weren't? Skipping that nightly habit caused your teeth to shift. "Teeth always want to go back to their regular place," Apa says. But the movement is also exacerbated by age. "It's an early sign of aging," he says. "Around 25, you'll typically see your lower front teeth starting to crowd."
The fix: An orthodontist can bond a metal bracket onto the back of the lower front teeth to stabilize them. For major movement, you can wear clear aligners (such as Invisalign) for about a year. Expect to pay an average of $5,000.
"In your 30s, wear patterns start to emerge on your teeth," says Apa. The culprit? Grinding and clenching, usually brought on by stress, he says. The wearing down of your teeth leads to not only cracks and structural issues, but also sagging skin. "If this continues, in your 60s you'll start to see some sagging in the lower one-third of your face, which becomes even more exaggerated as you lose collagen and elastin," Apa says. Yikes!
The fix: Protect your teeth against grinding by wearing a mouth guard while you sleep. Inexpensive versions are available at the drugstore, or for the most comfortable fit, see your dentist for a custom guard. The process involves taking impressions of your teeth and molding a guard out of a special material that is then hardened. Cost: $400 and up.
It's not just your Starbucks habit that's making your teeth appear less white these days. "Teeth may begin to look darker in color and duller in luster as you age because aging dentin (the tooth's middle layer that has a yellowish tint) can thin, causing stains to become more visible," says Irwin Smigel, DDS, creator of Supersmile.
The fix: Apa suggests trying over-the-counter whitening strips such as Crest 3D White Whitestrips Professional Effects ($56; cvs.com). For a pro-like treatment, go off label and use three strips per arch (upper and lower), applying a fresh strip every 15 minutes for 45 minutes, Apa says. Then maintain your results with a daily whitening toothpaste. Avoid abrasive formulas made with silica, which can wear away tooth's enamel over time, increasing teeth's staining potential. Instead look for those that contain a form of peroxide such as Supersmile Professional Whitening Toothpaste ($21; supersmilestore.com) with calcium peroxide.