The Causes and Treatment of Tooth Erosion
Despite the durability of tooth enamel, it is not impervious to harm. With enough abrasion or contact with harmful substances, enamel can wear away, exposing the more vulnerable inner tissues of teeth. Unfortunately, enamel does not grow back like other tissues in the body. Patients must therefore be proactive in preserving their teeth and, in the event of tooth erosion, replace lost tissue with restorative treatment.
By learning the most common causes of erosion, you can prevent or reduce its occurrence. If your teeth require protection due to worn enamel, cosmetic dentist Patrick Tanner can provide the right treatment for you.
Risks of Tooth Erosion
Teeth are naturally protected by enamel - the strongest substance in the human body. This hard, semi-translucent tissue normally does an excellent job of withstanding stress and keeping out harmful bacteria. Nevertheless, various factors may lead to its eventual erosion. As more enamel is lost, the underlying dentin tissue becomes increasingly exposed.
Unlike white enamel, dentin is darker and yellow in color, leading to tooth discoloration when near the surface. Dentin is also more sensitive, particularly to temperature, pressure, and sweets, resulting in pain when engaging in normal activities such as brushing or eating. But perhaps most importantly, eroded teeth increase their vulnerability to damage and infection. If your enamel has been worn away, restorative dentistry can ensure a bright smile and good dental health.
Watch What You Eat
In most cases, erosion is caused both directly and indirectly by food and drink. When highly acidic foods come in contact with teeth, they can eat away at surface tissue. This process is gradual and probably will not be noticed at first. However, people who regularly consume acidic foods or drinks are more likely to experience erosion over time. This problem is further exacerbated when people do not drink water with meals or when they neglect regular dental hygiene. Common foods that are high in acid include berries, citrus fruits, dairy products, and sauces. Drinks tend to be even worse, with wine, beer, fruit drinks, and soft drinks all contributing to erosion.
Another contributing factor from food is simple carbohydrates. Sugars and starches are a primary factor in the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth. As these bacteria grow along teeth and gums, it secretes its own acidic substance that is harmful to tissue. Even if no cavities form, erosion may still occur on the surfaces of teeth.
What Else Causes Erosion?
Tooth erosion may also be a symptom of another condition. By identifying and treating any of the following underlying problems, erosion may be more easily prevented:
- Teeth grinding: Also called bruxism, teeth grinding at night may play a significant role in erosion and other damage, such as chips or cracks in teeth. By wearing a night guard, patients can protect their teeth against this habit.
- Acid reflux: Patients with acid reflux, or GERD, suffer from stomach acid leaking up the esophagus and possibly into the mouth. The low pH of stomach acid makes it particularly dangerous for teeth.
- Drugs or supplements: Some medications and nutritional supplements are also highly acidic, such as aspirin, antihistamines, and vitamin C. This may lead to erosion when chewed or left to dissolve in the mouth.
- Dry mouth: When saliva production is low, teeth are more prone to erosion through bacterial growth. Speak with your dentist to learn the cause and possible treatment of chronic dry mouth.
- Over-bleaching: Patients who undergo too many teeth whitening treatments put themselves at risk of erosion, due to an overexposure to hydrogen peroxide or similar chemical agents.
Treatment Options for Erosion
If your enamel has eroded to the point where you are concerned for your smile, multiple treatment options are available. The first and least invasive method of treatment is through dental bonding. By applying layers of composite resin over teeth, your dentist can cover exposed dentin with a material that is similar in strength and appearance to natural enamel. While bonding is quick and inexpensive, composite resin does not last as long as alternative dental materials.
Porcelain veneers offer another way to cover your teeth. Porcelain is both more durable and aesthetically realistic than composite, making it an excellent cosmetic choice. Furthermore, veneers normally require the removal of enamel from teeth in order to be placed, making patients with eroded teeth excellent candidates.
For teeth that have lost most of their enamel and have thus been severely reduced in size, dental crowns may be the best option. Unlike other restorations, crowns cover all exposed surfaces of a tooth, effectively replacing the outer layer.
Treat Your Erosion
The sooner you treat tooth erosion, the less likely your teeth are to suffer from future damage or discomfort. Call or email our office to schedule a consultation with Dr. Tanner and learn how we can best serve you.