There are many approaches to a younger-looking face, from cosmetics to plastic surgery. But one of the most important components of a youthful appearance is a healthy smile. Maintaining the teeth and gums is critical to your overall beauty regimen.

Simple discoloration is a relatively minor issue that usually can be easily corrected with bleaching, daily dental hygiene, regular professional cleanings and avoidance of staining sub-stances, such as tobacco, coffee and red wine.

Yet older people often experience other health concerns that may affect their teeth and gums. “Dry mouth due to medications can cause cavities, and diabetes causes an increased number of cavities and an increased risk for gum disease,” explains Dr. Kevin Postol, of Postol Family and Cosmetic Dentistry.

He notes that custom tooth-whitening products, night guards to prevent undue wear on teeth from nocturnal grinding, and porcelain veneers all may help in maintaining a youthful smile. “Services like Invisalign (custom-made aligners that correct crowding and irregular bites) make it possible for adults to have the straight teeth they always desired without braces,” he adds. “Straight teeth are easier to keep clean and because of that, you are more likely to have less cavities and gum disease.”

While straight, white teeth are important, the quality of our smile isn’t the only way that dental health affects appearance. Our teeth, gums and jaw form part of the facial structure that defines the contours and shape of the face. “Most commonly, people's teeth wear down and become broken and/or missing,” says Dr. John Boain, of Boain Dental Care. “When that happens, people lose vertical dimension in their face due to the collapsed bite. This causes an aged appearance by shrinking of the face, increased folds and less tissue support.”

Maintaining healthy teeth and gums will help retain the bony facial scaffolding for our soft tissues. Thus, dental hygiene and care as we age remains extremely important.

“Today, we must make great efforts in order to maintain our teeth for life,” Boain says. “Many people are spending a lot of money for dental implants to restore what they once had. The best treatment is to catch things early on: Maintaining what you have is much more cost-effective than repairing what was lost.”

Postol agrees, adding, “A person who keeps his or her own natural teeth healthy for a lifetime is less likely to have other health problems and will live a longer life.”

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