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Long in the Tooth

The expression ‘long in the tooth’ has long been used to refer to old age in either humans or horses. The term originated from the ability to discern a horse’s age simply by looking at their teeth. Horses were a hot commodity and a common means of transportation since way back, and their aging process was monitored by examining their teeth. A wise buyer would often check inside the animal’s mouth, and if the teeth looked long, it meant its gums had already receded, suggesting the potential purchase might be older than claimed. Horse’s teeth continue to grow their entire lives thus one can give a rough estimate of their age by how long and worn out their teeth seem to be. The longer the teeth, the older the horse.

While the phrase apparently began with horses, it eventually was used to describe the age in humans as well as in the financial and technological worlds where items can be dated very quickly. Human teeth don’t continue to grow as they age, however, their gums do recede causing the teeth to appear longer than when they were younger. Getting long in the tooth has been used to describe gingival recession in older adults. Gingival recession has been shown to increase with age and affects men more often than women. A US study targeting 10,000 people concluded that 38% of people aged 30-39 had some degree of the condition, compared with 71% in the 50-59 age group, and 90% for those aged between 80-90. However, there are different potential causes of gingival recession, and they are all treated differently meaning aging isn’t the only cause for gum recession.

Causes of Gum Recession Gingival recession is the exposure of the roots of the teeth that happens when the gum tissue is recessed lowering its position on the tooth. Though the condition is a common problem among elderly adults, it can also begin at a very early age. In some cases, there is nothing that people can do to reduce their chances of developing the condition. Some people inherit thin and fragile gums which recede more easily. Others have teeth which are overcrowded or stick out, meaning that there is not enough jawbone to cover the root of the tooth exposing them to the condition. For others, the kind of life habits they choose to have predisposes them to the condition.

Long in the tooth treatment Every case of gum recession is slightly different, and therefore many treatments are available. The nature of the problem which caused the recession to begin with needs to be addressed by your dentist first. Once the cause of the gingival recession has been addressed, surgery of cosmetic or restorative nature may be recommended to make your smile more natural and appealing. Though it holds for horses, ageing is not a direct cause of receding gums in humans. It’s simply that the damage accumulates and becomes more evident over time.

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