There is a lot of talk about tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease. But there is another dental condition you may want to learn about: dental erosion.
It is not often discussed, and although you may have heard the term, many patients don't fully understand what dental erosion is and why they should worry about it.
What is Dental Erosion?
Enamel is the outermost layer of your tooth. It is there to act as a protective barrier. Dental erosion is the thinning and, eventually, loss, of tooth enamel over time. When tooth enamel is worn away, the inner layers of the tooth (known as dentin) become exposed. This can lead to sensitivity and a host of other complications.
Dental erosion is technically different from tooth decay, which is caused by bacteria-produced acids and directly leads to cavities and other dental problems. Dental erosion, on the other hand, can affect larger areas of the teeth and is usually due to direct acid exposure from certain foods, drinks, or even stomach acids.
Effects of Dental Erosion
As dental erosion progresses, it can lead to various oral health issues:
- Sensitivity: As the protective enamel wears away, the dentin underneath becomes exposed. Dentin contains tiny channels that lead to the nerveWhen exposed, these tubules allow heat, cold, or sweet foods to stimulate the nerves, leading to tooth sensitivity.
- Cosmetic Changes: Eroded teeth may appear yellow because dentin is visible. The shape and structure of the teeth can also change, becoming rounded or having a sandblasted look.
- Functional Issues: In severe cases, dental erosion can lead to shortened teeth or even cracked and broken teeth, affecting one's ability to chew and speak.
- Compromised Dental Work: Erosion of tooth structure can mean existing fillings, onlays/inlays, or veneers can protrude or become ill-filling or loose.
- Cavities: While it is not directly responsible for cavities, it can make your enamel weak and result in your teeth being more susceptible to decay.
Causes and Contributing Factors
When tooth enamel is lost, it cannot be recovered. That's why it is important to preserve this protective shield for your teeth.
Consuming acidic foods and beverages frequently is one of the leading causes of dental erosion. Soda or pop, fruit juices, and even some types of fruits, such as citrus fruits, can contribute to the weakening of tooth enamel.
Conditions like acid reflux (GERD) or bulimia can expose teeth to larger than normal amounts of stomach acid, which is extremely erosive. This repeated exposure can lead to significant enamel loss.
Saliva plays a crucial part in neutralizing acid in the mouth, as well as remineralizing teeth. Conditions or medications that reduce saliva production can increase the risk of erosion.
The act of grinding the teeth can erode the enamel, especially when combined with the presence of acids.
Prevention and Management
Preventing dental erosion is primarily about recognizing and addressing its causes. Consume fewer acidic foods and drinks. If you do indulge in them occationally, consider using a straw and follow with swishing water around your mouth. Address medical conditions that may contribute to dental erosion, and speak with your doctor about what to do if the medications you take impact your dental health.
Oral hygiene, as always, is key. Be absolutely sure to brush your teeth twice a day. Choose to use a soft-bristled toothbrush, which is gentler on teeth and gums. Brush with a fluoride toothpaste, which can help strengthen your enamel. Lastly, do not brush your teeth right after eating or drinking something acidic. Wait at least 30 minutes to brush after eating acidic foods.
Regular check-ups can help identify signs of erosion. Your dentist can recommend treatments or protective measures, such as fluoride applications or sealants. And, if you suffer from a condition like GERD or another stomach-related ailment, consult with a healthcare professional to manage and treat the root cause.
Tooth decay gets a lot of attention, but understanding dental erosion is an essential step in maintaining our oral health. Recognizing the signs early, adopting preventive measures, and seeking professional advice when necessary are crucial actions to ensure our teeth remain healthy and strong.
Regular visits to the dentist are invaluable in this effort. Schedule your next appointment today and stop dental erosion in its tracks.