Don’t Let Tooth Enamel Erosion Destroy Your Teeth

We all love sugary snacks and fizzy sodas. But did you know that they erode your tooth enamel? Keep teeth healthy with a balanced diet and regular brushing.

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Image by Pattie Photographer on Flickr.

These days, lots of people find it difficult to know how to treat their teeth. On the one hand, we know that tooth enamel is one of the strongest substances in the body. It can outlast the rest of the bones by thousands of years. Every year, archaeologists uncover piles of ancient teeth and they get very excited, because they know that they’re likely to be very old indeed.

Yet, this strength and durability doesn’t always match our life experiences. If it did, there would be no need for dentists or root canal treatments. So, how strong are your teeth? Why are they so vulnerable to decay and acid erosion, if they have the ability to last so much longer than we do? Well, the answer lies with plaque – the single most troublesome past of dental care.

Plaque is a type of bacteria that attaches itself to tooth enamel and produces acid. This acid then eats away at the enamel, until a hole has appeared in the tooth. It is also very bad for the health of gums, because it can degrade the tissues and lead to chronic periodontal disease. The reason why the teeth are vulnerable to plaque is because they are both living substances.

Your teeth may last a thousand years, but only without the presence of bacteria. While they are in your mouth, they are constantly at war with plaque. Now, a certain amount of wear, tear, and enamel erosion is inevitable as you age. The older you get, the more rounded the surface of teeth become. However, in order to minimise this damage, you have to keep up with an excellent dental care routine.

This guide to the importance of tooth enamel and the value of protecting it will help you get to grips with the basics of dental care.

Why Tooth Enamel Needs Protection

The enamel is the thin outer layer that coats the outside of all teeth. It may be thin, but it is incredibly tough. As already described, it is the single hardest substance contained in the body. The enamel entirely covers all visible portions of a tooth, so everything that you see above the gum line is fortified.

For the most part, enamel is transparent. Your dentist can shine a light on your teeth and see right through to their middle. This is where the dentin hides. It is the main body of the tooth and it needs protection. Once cavities and decay reach the dentin, a filling is urgently needed, as further erosion will take the acid down to the nerve centre.

The enamel on teeth is tough, but susceptible to stains. This is why fans of coffee, tea, cola, and red wine tend to develop stubborn patches and marks on their teeth. There is an easy way to deal with this – you can have a routine whitening treatment – but the stains will return if you do not brush regularly and cut down on the amount of dark coloured drinks.

Understanding the Function of Tooth Enamel

Ultimately, the enamel is there to protect the weaker inside portions of teeth (mainly the dentin). It is designed to withstand near constant pressure from chewing, biting, crunching, tearing, and grinding. While it is very strong, enamel is not completely invulnerable. It can crack, chip, fracture, and be worn away by acid.

The big problem with this is that it has no regeneration capacities. The enamel, unlike other portions of the tooth, contains no living cells. This means that it cannot be naturally healed or repaired. Once enamel is damaged, the only solution is an artificial one. For this reason, it is imperative that you protect your enamel from extreme temperatures, trips and falls, and the havoc wreaked by acid erosion.

Avoiding the Main Causes of Enamel Erosion

The erosion of enamel is mainly linked to dietary causes. It happens because acid breaks down its outer surface and eats away until holes appear or the dentin is reached. It is accelerated and exacerbated by the consumption of fizzy drinks, sugary fruit juices, too much starch and sugar, and behavioural habits like grinding (bruxism).

These are the main causes of enamel erosion, so a careful and healthy diet is really the only way to avoid it. However, in some rarer cases, the enamel is damaged by acid making its way back up from the stomach (acid reflux), gastrointestinal issues, or chronic dry mouth brought on by prescription medications. This last condition is called xerostomia and it is very common in patients on heart pressure, diabetes, and allergy meds.

At present, it is believed that more than 500 types of prescription medication cause xerostomia. It is characterised by a lack of saliva (hence its nickname, dry mouth). It might not sound like a big issue, but saliva is an essential part of cleaning and protecting teeth. If there is not enough of it in the mouth, friction builds up, abrasion increases, and the amount of plaque on the enamel remains high.

Everybody is at risk of enamel erosion, because we all eat starchy and sugary foods. The difference between those with healthy teeth and those with cavities is regular brushing, flossing, and check-ups. The more love and attention you give your enamel, the easier it will be to keep it intact. So, keep your teeth clean, visit your dentist regularly, and avoid consuming too many fizzy drinks and snacks.

Behavioural Habits Can Also Damage Enamel

If you have any dental based habits, these may also be damaging tooth enamel. The most obvious example of this is grinding, which many people do without consciously intending to. It is common for it to occur during sleep. For this reason, it can be a really tricky habit to break, but correction is necessary if the tooth enamel is to stay healthy.

The following conditions can all lead to enamel erosion. If you suffer with any of them, it is important that you consult your dentist and find a way to break the bad habits. Your dental specialist will be able to give you advice on the best ways to prevent things like grinding, clenching, and environmental forms of erosion.

Attrition

This is what happens when you clench or grind your teeth together while you sleep. It is a consequence of too much friction on the surface of enamel. Fortunately, it can be fixed, even if you only due this during sleep. A dentist usually prescribes the use of a special mouth guard. It holds the mouth open slightly, as you sleep, and lifts the tongue to prevent unwanted contact.

Abrasion

The term ‘abrasion’ describes wear and tear to the enamel. It can be caused by any number of forces that put pressure on the teeth. So, brushing too hard, flossing incorrectly, using teeth to open jars and bottles, smoking, and things like biting your fingernails. These habits can all lead to accelerated abrasion of the teeth.

Corrosion

This is a more powerful version of the regular erosion of tooth enamel. It can be caused by prolonged exposure to certain medications (like aspirin or vitamin C supplements), the consumption of extremely acidic foods, and persistent vomiting. People with eating disorders are particularly at risk of serious enamel corrosion.

Eating Disorders

It is important to emphasise just how damaging eating disorders can be for the teeth. This danger is often overlooked, because conditions like bulimia and anorexia wreak such havoc with every part of the body. Yet, binge eating and habitual vomiting are very harmful to teeth. They coat the enamel in acid and this then turns into cavities and decay.

Recognising the Signs of Enamel Erosion

The symptoms of enamel erosion will vary, depending on how severe the condition is. If erosion is mild, not all of the following signs will be present. If left untreated, however, you will eventually come to experience all of them. The faster you deal with the problem, the less chance there will be of painful aches and sharp sensations.

The first sign of enamel erosion is increased sensitivity. This will be most noticeable when you eat very hot or cold food and drinks. You may also experience mild pain or toothache after you have eaten lots of sugary snacks. This is the earliest stage of enamel erosion and it represents the best chance of rescuing the affected tooth.

As the condition progresses, your teeth will start to take on a slightly yellower color. This is due to the enamel dissolving and letting the dentin become exposed to wear and stains. You may start to notice little round indentations on the surface of teeth. This is where the enamel is being actively eroded. In some cases, severe erosion will lead to cracks and fractures.

While there is unlikely to be any pain to begin with, this does not mean that you should delay treatment. In fact, it is the best time to consult a dentist. The last thing that you want to do is wait until the condition progresses into a painful toothache. Deal with it before it becomes a stress or a major trauma. Your teeth will thank you and so will your wallet, because repair treatments can be costly.

Hints and Tips for Preventing Enamel Erosion

To keep the enamel on your teeth as strong as possible, you need to brush and floss twice every day (at least). It is also a good idea to rinse daily with a mouthwash containing fluoride. Visit your dentist twice a year, unless you have been advised otherwise. For people with periodontal disease or other problems, dentist usually recommend more frequent check-ups and dental exams.

If you are keeping up with all of these things, but still battling persistent enamel erosion, you probably need to change your diet. Wherever possible, try to avid acidic foods and drinks. Do not consume a lot of fizzy sodas, fruit juices, or citrus drinks. If you do consume these things, rinse your mouth with water afterwards and then brush your teeth within the next thirty minutes.

You can also use this rather clever trick. If you drink your soda or other carbonated beverage with a straw, it will push the liquid to the back of your mouth and prevent it from having too much contact with enamel. Between meals, chew sugar free gum. It stimulates saliva production and this is great for keeping the mouth and teeth healthy. Also, drinking plenty of water is a good way to get saliva production flowing.

Make sure that your enamel erosion is not due to bad habits like grinding or clenching. If it is, you will need to ask your dentist for some advice on the best ways to stop. The simplest and easiest solution is a flexible mouth guard. These devices are made out of rubber or plastic. They slip into the mouth and hold the teeth in a position that is healthier and safer for enamel.

Using Fluoride Safely and Carefully

These days, fluoride toothpaste brands are the norm. They are what dental professionals recommend that patients use and they are the commercial standard. This is because fluoride helps the teeth to remineralize and regenerate. It keeps the enamel strong and gives you a beautiful smile. However, there is a downside to fluoride. It cannot be ingested in anything but the smallest amounts.

If you consume too much of this mineral, you will develop white spots and patches on your teeth. The truth is that fluoride, like so many things, is toxic is not handled safely. The good news is that you have to ingest quite a lot of it before you start to show any symptoms of toxicity. As long as you follow medical advice – only use a pea sized amount for brushing – you will not have any harmful side effects.

As children are more susceptible to enamel fluorosis (white patches), parents need to monitor them closely when brushing. They should only use a small amount, preferably less than you would, and they must not swallow. Once you have taught a child how to brush correctly, you should be able to leave them to do so unsupervised.

Treating Severe Enamel Loss and Erosion

The bad news is that there is no real treatment, as such, for enamel erosion. Once the outer surface of the tooth has gone, it cannot be regrown. The dentist can only offer artificial replacements. So, in mild to moderate cases, dental bonding techniques may be used to fill in the eroded gaps. If the loss of enamel is severe, the only option is to place a crown over the top of the damaged tooth as a barrier against further degradation. If you need more information about cheap dental crowns, consult your dental membership plan for advice.   

As there is no way of regaining lost enamel, it is imperative that you look after it while you still have it. Like lost teeth, dental enamel cannot be simply regenerated or reconstructed. It contains no living cells, so the body is not able to naturally repair it. You are responsible for the health of your teeth. Do not wait until next year, next month, or even next week to turn the situation in your mouth around – start today.

If you think that you might have eroded enamel, but you do not know how to take the first step, get in touch with your dentist. Though it may be a long time since you last visited, dental technologies, techniques, and tools have only gotten more sophisticated. In other words, if it is bad memories of a previous experience that are holding you back from visiting, let go of your fear. You are likely to be very surprised at just how different dentistry has become.

As long as nothing that you do obstructs treatment or a dental exam, your dentist won’t mind making room for coping strategies. For example, you might feel more relaxed if you play with a stress toy while the dentist is filling or injecting a tooth. It may help to have a friend or family member present in the room; this is usually fine, as long as your companion steers clear of the chair and the immediate treatment area. 

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