Enamel is the thin, protective layer that covers the crown, or exposed portion of your tooth. At its deepest points, enamel is only about 2.5 millimeters thick. Though this might seem pretty thin, enamel is the hardest substance in the human body and is critical to the health of your teeth. It serves as protection from daily tooth wear, such as chewing, biting and grinding- forces that the dentin, or main body of your tooth, can’t withstand. It also acts as an insulator to protect your teeth from harsh (and potentially painful) chemicals and temperatures.
Despite being an extremely tough barrier, enamel wearing and thinning is a very common dental problem. Enamel erosion puts you at higher risk for sensitive teeth, cavities, and other dental health issues. Here are some of the biggest culprits for worn enamel:
- A diet high in acidic food. Foods like tomatoes, vinegars, and citrus fruits all contain acid that can break down your enamel.
- Drinking excessive soft drinks. Regular AND diet sodas contain high levels of citric and phosphoric acid- both of these substances erode your teeth’s protective coverings.
- Brushing with a stiff bristled toothbrush. Many people mistakenly think that harder bristles will clean better and therefore be healthier for their mouths. This is not the case. Stiff bristles and hard brushing can wear away at your enamel over time.
- Dry mouth. People who produce too little saliva may suffer from dry mouth, or xerostomia- a big contributor to enamel erosion. Saliva is important to wash bacteria and acids from your mouth and help restore the pH of your oral cavity.
- Too much plaque. Bacteria in plaque changes food starches into acids which are harmful to your teeth.
- Acid reflux, severe heartburn, and eating disorders. If you suffer from a condition with causes stomach acids to rise up through your esophagus and into your mouth, you are at risk increased risk for enamel erosion.
- Bruxism. Grinding or clenching your teeth doesn’t just make for sore jaw muscles. The forces and pressure wear down and chip away at your enamel and may even cause deeper cracking and chipping in your teeth.
- Chlorinated Pools. Here’s one you might not have considered, but the pH of a chlorinated swimming pool can become too acidic if it is not carefully monitored. A recent study by the CDC showed that frequent swimmers have a greater occurrence of enamel thinning than those who do not swim often.
Now we know some of the biggest offenders when it comes to enamel erosion. Let’s talk about what you can do to prevent and even restore that crucial protective layer over your teeth.
- Spontaneous remineralization. Compounds in your saliva are constantly working to remineralize or “harden” your enamel. Besides being a way for minerals to be deposited back to your teeth, saliva also helps wash away the acids that build up in our mouths after eating and drinking.
- Healthy diet. Choose foods rich in vitamins and minerals to insure your saliva is mineral rich. Eat and drink foods high in calcium, like milk, cheeses and other products, to help strengthen teeth and bones.
- Avoid sugary and acidic drinks. If you do drink them, use a straw. A straw limits the contact that the liquids have with your teeth.
- Don’t snack too often. Continually exposing your teeth to the acidic environment that accompanies eating is hard on your enamel. Chase your snacks with a glass of water to help restore the pH in your mouth sooner if you do choose to snack.
- Use a soft bristled toothbrush. The ADA recommends brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft bristled brush and replacing a worn toothbrush every three or four months.
- Make sure your mouth stays moist. If you feel like your mouth is dry, try chewing a sugar free gum (especially one containing xylitol) as it stimulates increased saliva production. We’ve already talked about the many benefits saliva has on your teeth above.
- Address heartburn and eating disorders. Tooth erosion is just one of the harmful side effects of these conditions. Talk to you doctor about treatment options.
- Drink more water! A glass of water washes harmful acids and food debris away from your teeth.
- Swim with your mouth closed. Swimming with your mouth closed will limit the amount of chlorinated water that comes in contact with your teeth.
- Use a fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash. Fluoride helps to strengthen your teeth and prevents tooth decay. Ask your dentist if your town’s water contains fluoride and if not, if you could benefit from supplemental fluoride treatments such as chewable tablets or in-office fluoride gel treatments
- Visit the dentist regularly. Seeing your dentist for routine cleanings will help keep your teeth and enamel clean and healthy. It also helps you stay on top of your oral health and address any problems soon before they become major issues.
Dental treatment for enamel erosion depends on the severity of the issue. Veneers, crowns and fillings are all options to cover teeth that are no longer protected due to severely eroded enamel. If you see or experience signs of worn enamel like: yellowing teeth, uneven or chipped tooth edges, dents on the chewing surface of your teeth, or increased tooth sensitivity, schedule a visit with your dentist to talk about the state of your enamel and to develop a treatment plan.