What is Tooth Enamel Erosion?
Tooth enamel erosion is a wearing and breakdown of the thin outer layer covering the teeth called enamel. This extremely strong outer layer (enamel) is the hardest tissue in the human body. The main part of your tooth is the layer under the tooth enamel and that is area is called dentin.
Tooth enamel helps protect your teeth from daily use. This includes things such as chewing, biting, crunching, and tooth grinding. Even though tooth enamel is super strong it can chip and crack over time with use. Tooth enamel also acts as an insulator from potentially painful temperature changes or even harsh chemicals (acids).
Tooth enamel does not have the ability to repair itself like a broken bone can. Once a tooth fractures or chips the damage is permanent. The reason for this is that the tooth enamel has no living cells, unlike the second layer (dentin), which does. So the body is unable to repair enamel like it might a broken bone.
Tooth enamel erosion is the process that occurs when acids wear away the tooth enamel. Tooth enamel erosion is just one of the many causes of tooth discomfort or pain. Tooth enamel erosion occurs when excess acid in the mouth wears away the tooth enamel. Usually the calcium present in saliva will help to neutralize the acids in the foods or liquids we ingest. But if you eat or drink a lot of highly acidic foods,
(alcohol, soda, citrus, (lemons, limes), cheeses are a few examples), the calcium in your saliva will not be able to keep up its job. This will shift the balance from one of a neutral environment to one that is more acidic. Pure fruit juices and Carbonated drinks are highly acidic. If you drink large amounts of these drinks you are increasing your chances for tooth enamel erosion.
Other causes of Tooth Enamel Erosion
-Dry mouth or Xerostomia. This is lowered salivary flow that can be due to many factors. These factors include systemic disease or even medications.
-Acid reflux disease (GERD=gastroesophageal reflux disease)
-Medications. Such as aspirin or antihistamines or even penicillin.
-Genetics. This plays a role in how acidic your mouth may be. Your mouth may lean towards acidic anyway and your lifestyle will just exacerbate the issue of tooth enamel erosion.
-Environmental factors. Teeth grinding and stress will increase the amount of tooth enamel erosion by causing physical damage to the teeth. This will thin out the tooth enamel giving the acids in your diet an even easier time of causing tooth enamel erosion.
-Bulimia. This disease has been shown to cause tooth enamel erosion. Bulimia is associated with binge eating and vomiting. The release of stomach acids into the mouth will cause tooth enamel erosion over time.
Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Enamel Erosion
Tooth Pain. When tooth enamel erosion occurs, you may experience tooth pain from hot and cold food. Remember, the tooth enamel serves as a protective insulating layer. As it thins out you are more susceptible to these changes.
Discoloration. You may begin to notice a yellowing of teeth during tooth enamel erosion. This is because the dentin ( which, is naturally yellow in color ) is becoming exposed as the enamel wears thin and translucent and allows the dentin color to show through.
Transparency. As the tooth enamel erodes and this layer becomes thinner light may be able to shine thru and give the appearance that the tooth is transparent.
Cracks and Cups. Cracks and small indentations may develop from tooth enamel erosion.
Severe and Painful Sensitivity. Certain foods (sweets) and temperatures of foods (hot or cold) may cause a twinge of pain and discomfort in the early stage of tooth enamel erosion.
When tooth enamel erosion occurs, the tooth is more prone to cavities or tooth decay. When the tooth decay enters the hard enamel, it has an easier entry to the inner parts of the tooth.
-Maintain proper dental hygiene. This includes visiting your dentist regularly for dental examinations and cleanings. As well as brushing after every meal and flossing at least once a day.
Eliminate highly acidic foods and drinks. These include carbonated sodas, lemons, and other citrus fruits and juices. An important tip is to rinse your mouth immediately with water after ingesting these liquids. This will wash the acids from your mouth as well as bring your mouth back to a neutral pH state. If you do decide to continue to drink citrus or fruit juices choose ones that are low acidic in content. Wait for a minimum of 1 hour to brush teeth after it has been exposed to acids in food or drinks. Acid leaves the enamel softened and more prone to tooth enamel erosion during brushing.
-Use a straw. When drinking acidic drinks use a straw. This pushes the acidic liquid to the back of your mouth bypassing the teeth.
-Keep track of snacks. Snacking during the day with out brushing increases the risk for tooth decay. Following snacking the mouth will be acidic for a few hours until you are able to brush and rinse your mouth. Try to avoid snacking unless you are able to rinse your mouth and brush your teeth afterwards.
-Chew sugar free gum. Chewing gum stimulates salivary flow. Studies have shown it can increase up to 10X normal when chewing gum. Try to choose xylitol gum as it has been shown to reduce the acids in the mouth.
-Drink more water throughout your day if you have low saliva volume or dry mouth.
-Use a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens teeth so use a commercially available fluoride toothpaste.
There are a few ways to restore the damages to tooth enamel caused by erosion. Your dentist will be able to evaluate the best course of treatment for your situation. In some cases, dental bonding can be used to protect the tooth as well as increase the aesthetics. If the tooth enamel erosion is more significant, a crown may be necessary to restore and protect the tooth from any more damage that might occur.
Tooth enamel erosion can be a very serious problem for patients as it worsens over time. Regular dental examinations will reveal the problem before it becomes too hard to contain. If you have any concerns about tooth enamel erosion ask your dentist at your next visit.