What does "long in the tooth" mean?

Q: Recently I heard somebody described as “long in the tooth.” What does that mean?
A: If people neglect their gum care, as they get older their gums will recede, making their teeth look longer. So saying somebody is “long in the tooth” is another way of calling them old.

According to some sources, we get this expression from the practice of looking at a horse’s teeth to estimate the animal’s age. A horse’s teeth continue to grow as they age, so an older horse will have longer teeth than a younger horse.

The first recorded use of the phrase in English comes from Thackeray’s The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. in 1852: “His cousin was now of more than middle age, and had nobody’s word but her own for the beauty which she said she once possessed. She was lean, and yellow, and long in the tooth; all the red and white in all the toy-shops in London could not make a beauty of her.”

Getting older is inevitable, but getting “long in the tooth” isn’t! Take care of your gums and teeth, and you can prevent this visible sign of aging.
Dr. Natalie Khadavi
sees patients in the Los Angeles area. Visit our website or give us a call at (310) 482-3971 for more information about how we can provide you and your family with healthy smiles that last a lifetime.

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