Enamel forms a hard coating on each tooth to protect the softer, more sensitive tissue and nerves inside. Despite its tough exterior, enamel can erode over time as a result of physical reasons, like teeth grinding or chemical reasons, like long-term exposure to stomach acids. Learn how tooth enamel erosion occurs and what you can do.
What Is Tooth Enamel?
Enamel is a hard shell covering the exterior of each tooth’s crown, the portion above the gumline. It’s translucent, allowing you to see the dentin below, which is responsible for the color of your teeth.
As a result of enamel’s toughness, you can chew and bite food with relative ease and the rest of your tooth’s structure remains protected, including against hot and cold temperatures that could aggravate and over-stimulate the nerves.
However, enamel is not indestructible. Grinding can wear down the surface and sharp impacts can crack or chip it. Routinely drinking acidic beverages, like coffee, tea, red wine, fruit juice and soda also wears down the enamel and contributes to surface stains.
Unlike the rest of the bones in your body, enamel has no living cells and therefore cannot repair itself. In turn, you’re advised to avoid habits that can wear down or chip the enamel.
General Causes of Erosion
Erosion occurs when your tooth begins to lose mineralized tissue. This chemical process is triggered by exposure to acids, including from your own body, environmental sources and your diet. Enamel erosion is not just aesthetic; in addition to more prominent tooth staining, this progression exposes the dentin underneath, increases sensitivity and contributes to cavities. Outside of acid exposure, friction and wear also gradually erode the enamel.
Common mechanisms for enamel loss are:
- Friction or attrition, resulting from grinding or clenching your teeth
- Manual abrasion, from compulsive chewing, brushing too aggressively or chewing hard objects
- Stress fractures from impacts or forcing the tooth out of its position
- Corrosion from routine acid exposure
- Low saliva production, which prevents your mouth from washing away bacteria and acids
How Enamel Erosion Occurs
From these general processes, common behaviors contributing to enamel erosion include:
- Consuming soft drinks and fruit juices, which contain high amounts of citric acid
- Eating acidic, sour foods
- Consuming a diet high in sugar and starches, which can increase the bacteria responsible for plaque in your mouth and contribute to cavities and erosion
- Sucking on candies
- Experiencing dry mouth
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn, which can cause stomach acid to flow into the mouth
- Regularly using aspirin and antihistamines
- Taking a vitamin C supplement or consuming foods with high concentrations of it
- High levels of alcohol consumption, which increases your risk for vomiting and exposing your teeth to stomach acid
- Chewing on pens, bottle caps and ice cubes
- Binge eating and bulimia, characterized by frequent vomiting to control caloric intake
Signs of Enamel Erosion
Especially if you’ve been a lifelong coffee or soda drinker, you may start to experience signs of enamel erosion as you age. These include:
- Tooth sensitivity, especially when consuming hot or cold beverages
- Visible discoloration, including yellow or brown patches
- Teeth display a jagged, uneven edge
- Hairline cracks and fractures
- Shiny patches, which indicate areas of mineral loss
- Cupping, or indented areas where you bite and chew
- An increase in cavities
- A pitted texture on the surface of your teeth
Preventing Enamel Erosion
Reducing your risks for enamel erosion comes down to the following:
- Keep up your dental care routine. Brush at least twice per day with a fluoride toothpaste, followed by flossing and rinsing with a fluoride-based antibacterial mouthwash. Be sure to floss at least once. Schedule appointments for a professional cleaning every six months.
- Watch your diet. Limit highly acidic foods, including coffee, carbonated drinks, fruit juices, sour foods, candies and citrus fruits. Be sure to rinse your mouth with water, have a glass of milk or a piece of cheese after consuming any of these items and use a straw to bypass your teeth. In addition, reduce sugars and starches in your diet, as these can accelerate tooth decay and worsen enamel erosion.
- Increase saliva production. You’re advised to chew sugar-free gum between meals or sip on water to wash away any acids and bacteria in your mouth.
- Address sources of erosion. Use a soft-bristled brush to clean your teeth. If you have acid reflux or a condition like bulimia, get medical treatment to manage symptoms.
If these approaches do not work, your dentist may recommend applying resin or a veneer to cover and protect areas with thin or missing enamel or a pitted texture.
Bring any concerns about enamel erosion to the team at Smile Dental Center. To schedule an appointment, contact our Shelton, CT office today.