Enamel is the outer layer covering your teeth. It is the hardest substance in the body and protects the teeth from drinking, biting, and chewing.
When tooth enamel is exposed to acids, the enamel softens and tooth wear occurs. Saliva helps neutralize the acidity and slowly hardens the enamel. But, if the acid attacks happen too frequently, the enamel becomes eroded or worn out causing sensitivity. Loss of enamel is permanent, and if left untreated, it may lead to rapid decay, chipping or tooth fractures.
What causes tooth erosion?
• Acidic foods and drinks like fruits, juices, soft drinks slowly erode enamel. Reduce their intake. Rinse your mouth with water after having them. Brushing immediately while your enamel is already softened can actually cause further damage.
• Acid reflux, GERD or heartburn: Not everyone with GERD has heartburn. In fact, you may have GERD and not even know it. GERD and acid reflux are caused when the esophageal sphincter allows acid to seep out of the stomach into your mouth. In the absence of heartburn symptoms, the first indication that a person may have GERD is the erosion of the enamel on the molars or on the backside of teeth.
• Bulimia, alcoholism or binge drinking are disorders associated with frequent vomiting. The acids from your stomach that come up during vomiting can wear away your teeth’s enamel and lead to severe teeth destruction.
• Many drugs, both prescription and illegal, can cause tooth damage. These include excessive fluoride, antihistamines, aspirin, asthma medications and syrups. Illegal drugs including cocaine, crack, ecstasy, heroin and methamphetamines can also damage teeth.
• Grinding or clenching your teeth over time also results in wear of the chewing surfaces of your teeth and can result in chipping or fracture of your teeth. The dentist may recommend a night guard to protect your teeth. If the teeth are severely worn out, you may need more extensive treatment such as fillings, crowns or root canals.
• Hard brushing. Brushing your teeth harder doesn’t mean you’re getting them cleaner. Brushing hard can actually tear way the enamel. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles, and focus on brushing longer and more thoroughly, rather than harder and faster.
• Dry mouth. Saliva helps neutralize the acids and slowly hardens the tooth enamel. Increase your water intake to increase your saliva production to protect your teeth.
How does your dentist know?
Acid erosion and enamel wear are very slow progressing conditions. Your dentist may find early symptoms of a potentially serious problem before it progresses. Early treatment and detection can save you a lot of time and money. A simple night guard only takes a few appointments but restoring all your teeth with root canals and crowns takes a lot more. And that night guard cost pales in comparison to several root canals and crowns!
Do not wait until it hurts. Visit your dentist regularly!
Dr. Marcela Newman