Dental tooth recession "Long in the tooth": What does it mean?

Q: What does it mean why you say somebody is “long in the tooth”?
A: Saying somebody is “long in the tooth” is another way of calling them old.

When people neglect their gum care, as they get older their gums can recede and make their teeth look longer.

Some sources report that the expression comes from the old practice of looking at a horse’s teeth to estimate the animal’s age. (This practice also gave rise to the expression, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.”) A horse’s teeth will continue to grow as the horse ages, so the teeth of an older horse will be longer than the teeth of a younger horse.

The first known 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” doesn’t have to be! If you take care of your teeth and gums, 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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