Fashion & Beauty

That’s Entertainment!

May 1, 2022


Long in the what? / iStock photo.

By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

EARLY ONE weekend afternoon some years ago, I spent a couple of hours in a park swarming with parents nuzzling their babies, with partying children running around, faces painted like clowns, like fairies, like little wild animals, like gypsies. One small, pale boy scrambled to the top of an imposing rock, threw his arms open wide, and warbled, “I am the king! I am the king!” And I was reminded how profoundly entertaining children can be.

Though I’d have found my own son thoroughly entertaining if he’d simply stood still while I watched him grow, he insisted on taking up other, more complicated pursuits: juggling, performing magic tricks, playing the saxophone. There was always something to do around him: applaud, pull a card out of a deck, clap my hands over my ears. Having a child provided me with a steady stream of things to respond to, demanding constant intimacy with the present.

Somehow, that child became an adult with a child of his own. Though I could tell you the practical details of how it happened, I can’t explain the when. In a matter of seconds, it seems I have become the mother of a father. And the other day I heard my 3-year-old granddaughter ask him, Why is Grammie old?

I wish I knew the answer to that question. But I am old. And I have the teeth to prove it.

Which leads me to . . .


“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions.

Yes, you, next to the little girl in the red hooded cape. Why are you covering your mouth with your—wait . . . is that a paw?

Q: It seems my teeth are becoming more noticeable—and not in a good way—as I get older. What’s happening to me?

A: Ah, yes. Your gums are deteriorating. Have a nice day!

The problem is that your gums have begun to shrink away from the crown portion of your teeth, exposing some of the root. The length of the average front tooth is 10 to 12 millimeters; with recession and root exposure, it can become as long as 15 to 17 millimeters. (That’s where the expression “long in the tooth” comes from, indicating someone of advanced age.) In the same way that skin loses collagen fibers, gum tissue loses mass. The best preventive measure is to brush and floss twice a day, which can help keep your gums free of bacteria and, therefore, recession-worsening disease. Also, overly vigorous cleaning can scrub away gum tissue, so avoid trying to work out while you brush. I like this dentist-recommended toothbrush. (Mine vibrates in the key of C. I don’t know why I noticed this, but it pleases me.)

Having your teeth professionally whitened is a fine way to freshen up your face, because, a) white teeth are a sign of good health (and youth), and b) the procedure isn’t outrageously expensive and is fairly easy. But best to start out with a natural shade of pale rather than a whiter one. Too-white teeth look fake at any age, but on a mature person they can look . . . false. Finding the most natural-looking shade partly depends on your skin tone: Simply, the lighter your skin, the lighter your teeth can be, as olive or darker skin can create too much contrast with bright pearly whites. Better if your tooth color matches your sclera (the whites of the eyes), which is typically a creamy, off-white.

Poor dental aesthetics are linked to lack of self-confidence—and studies show, unsurprisingly, that discolored teeth have a negative impact on social perceptions. Healthy chompers also help preserve the architecture of the face, as the cheeks and lips are supported by the teeth and jaw.

I’ve been thinking about my granddaughter’s question, relative to being intimate with the present. I mean, to quote Judy Collins, who knows where the time goes? But the more we’re rooted in the present, the more we practice that over the years, the more constantly, consistently can we be here.

Why is Grammie old? Maybe the better to love you, my dear.


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