Consider the teeth

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

The story of aging is the story of our parts. Consider the teeth. The hardest substance in the human body is the white enamel of the teeth. With age, it nonetheless wears away, allowing the softer darker layers underneath to show through. Meanwhile, the blood supply to the pulp and the roots of the teeth atrophies, and the flow of saliva diminishes; the gums tend to become inflamed and pull away from the teeth, exposing the base, making them unstable and elongating their appearance, especially the lower ones. Experts say they can gauge a person’s age to within five years from the examination of a single tooth – if the person has any teeth left to examine.

Scrupulous dental care can help avert tooth loss, but growing old gets in the way. Arthritis, tremors, and small strokes, for example, make it difficult to brush and floss, and because nerves become less sensitive with age, people may not realize that they have cavity and gum problems until it’s too late. In the course of a normal lifetime. The muscles of the jaw lose about 40% of their mass and the bones of the mandible lose about 20%. Becoming porous and weak. The ability to chew declines, and people shift to softer food, which are generally higher in fermentable carbohydrates and more likely to cause cavities. By the age of sixty, people in an industrialized country like the United States have lost, on average, a third of their teeth. After eighty-five, almost 40% have no teeth at all.