When my mother was in her mid to late 20's, she had beautiful, straight, white teeth. Before she turned 30, she had no teeth at all and was wearing dentures. She lost her teeth to what was called "Pyorrhea" at that time and is now more generally referred to as "periodontal disease."
Since her teeth were perfect, this came as quite a shock to her and it was very painful having all of her teeth removed and her jawbone scraped of disease all at once. She relayed a story on multiple occasions about how she kept her face frozen with ice packs after the procedure because she saw a woman who had had a similar unfortunate experience whose face was nearly unrecognizable because of the swelling.
You'd think that someone who had endured what she had would have reared her children to take very good care of their teeth since she knew the suffering one might endure if disease struck. As a matter of fact, the opposite was the case. As normal kids who dislike spending time pursuing any sort of hygiene routine, we resisted brushing our teeth and she quickly gave up and didn't enforce any sort of oral hygiene behavior. This resulted in two gaping holes in my lower jaw where the second molar from the back was ripped out on both sides because of cavities when I was about age 10 and 12. My family was too poor to go the rebuilding route, so they just told the dentist to take them out and damn the consequences to my oral health.
When I became a teenager, I worked out a few things on my own about taking care of my teeth and became pretty fastidious about brushing. To this day, I can't tolerate the idea of going to bed without clean teeth and generally have not had any issues since getting them cleaned up and having all the cavities drilled and filled in Japan early on during my stay. It's a sad statement on the health care situation in the U.S. that I worked two jobs simultaneously just after college (one full, one part-time) and had no dental care plan (nor did I have one from the job I held in California). I had to go to another country to find a system that would take care of my problems in an affordable manner.
Fortunately, after that initial sequence of drilling and filling, all has been well for many years. Two years ago, I went to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning and he looked at my teeth for all of 10 seconds and said they were still fine. The same system of socialized medicine in Japan that took care of my teeth also encourages doctors to offer thumbnail consultations for those on the national plan, unfortunately. However, it's certainly better than the nothing I had in the States.
About a year ago, I started waking up with a bad taste in my mouth. For a lot of people, I'm guessing this is probably not unusual if all the "morning breath" allusions are to be believed. For the record, I've never had that problem. It seems that I've reached the age where being careful with brushing isn't enough and I had to break down and start with the flossing. Yes, I know you're supposed to floss regularly all your life, but I didn't have any issues so I was slack. Also, my gums are sensitive and it gave me terrible headaches from referred pain to do it so I gave up. I'm going to forestall any reminders about how sensitive gums are the result of not flossing and you have to do it for awhile to get past that by saying I'm already aware of that. That being said, I haven't had any gum disease.
This particular change has been yet another reminder of the fact that there are all sorts of lapses in judgment about your health that you can get away with when you're younger that you can't allow as you get older. I can't tell you how many times I've recognized that a body in its 40's isn't going to recover as quickly or effortlessly from bad habits as one in its 20's. I don't mind a lot of things about getting older, but the fact that your body no longer (seemingly) effortlessly and transparently looks after itself when you don't apply meticulous care is one I definitely mind.