Our teeth are protected against damage by a hard outer layer called enamel. Tooth enamel is very hard and strong, in fact it is even stronger than bone and is the strongest tissue in the human body. Enamel is like armor for your teeth, protecting them from chemical or physical damage. It also acts as a kind of insulation, protecting the teeth from possibly painful temperatures. Because it is the first line of defense for your teeth, enamel is subjected to a lot of wear and tear. Over time, enamel can start to break down, this is known as enamel erosion.
Enamel erosion can cause many issues for the teeth, from tooth sensitivity to staining. Once enamel is lost, it cannot be replaced, so prevention of enamel erosion is incredibly important.
The most common and significant cause of enamel erosion is the acids in the foods and drinks that we consume. Our mouths constantly produce saliva, which neutralizes the acids to protect our teeth. When acidic foods are consumed too often, and teeth aren’t cleaned often or well enough, over time enamel can start to degrade. Some of the foods most likely to cause enamel erosion are:
- Sodas/Soft Drinks – Not only are these drinks very high in sugar, they also contain citric and phosphoric acids, which can be very damaging to teeth.
- Fruit Drinks and Juices – These can also be very high in sugar and damaging acids.
- Highly sugary foods – Foods such as ice cream, candy, caramel and syrups can be very damaging to the enamel of our teeth.
- Acidic foods – Some foods have a high acid content, such as sour candies, citrus fruits, berries, apples and rhubarb, which can contribute to enamel erosion.
- Starchy foods – Foods such as white bread, pasta and potatoes are high in starch, which can negatively affect tooth enamel.
- Excess Vitamin C – Too much vitamin C, especially from citrus fruits, can cause tooth enamel to erode more rapidly.
Some of the other causes of enamel erosion are:
- Chronic Acid Reflux
- Tooth Grinding
- Low saliva production, often as a side effect of diabetes
- Regular use of some medications such as: aspirin and some antihistamines
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of enamel erosion can vary depending on the severity and location of the damage. Some of the most common signs are:
Increased Tooth Sensitivity
Some people may experience an increased level of sensitivity to certain foods, textures and temperatures. If the enamel erosion is significant or severe, there may be pain and a high amount of sensitivity, especially when the teeth are exposed to extreme cold and hot, and very spicy or sweet foods.
In some cases enamel erosion can result in cosmetic concerns such as yellowed, stained teeth.
Structural or Physical Damage
Sometimes the structure of the teeth is compromised as a result of enamel erosion. This damage may appear as rough edges on the teeth, translucency of the teeth, or chipped or fractured teeth. Some teeth may also develop indentations on their surface which are referred to as “cups.”
Treatment & Prevention
Tooth enamel is incredibly tough, but because it isn’t composed of living cells it is unable to regenerate itself. Enamel erosion cannot be reversed, and enamel will not grow back once it is lost. That being said, enamel erosion takes a long time to significantly affect the teeth, so even if you are experiencing some signs of enamel loss, steps can be taken to prevent further erosion and subsequent damage.
If your teeth are already affected by enamel erosion, your dentist can help to protect your teeth through a procedure called bonding. Bonding is the application of a tooth coloured resin to the teeth. The resin can help to conceal discolouration or damage, as well as strengthen and protect your teeth.
Crowns and Veneers
In some cases where damage and erosion has progressed significantly, your dentist may suggest that a crown or veneer be placed on the teeth, to restore the appearance and structural integrity of the teeth.
Protecting and preserving the enamel of your teeth is incredibly important, as enamel erosion is irreversible. There are several things you can do to prevent enamel erosion from occuring or worsening.
Avoiding foods that are high in sugar and/or acid can go a long way in preventing enamel erosion. If you do choose to have soda or other acidic drinks, using a straw can help the liquid to bypass the teeth when drinking. You can also follow any meals or snacks with a glass of milk or piece of cheese, which can help to cancel out the acid.
Brushing and Flossing
One of the most important factors in preventing enamel erosion is the practice of impeccable oral hygiene. Brushing twice a day with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, as well as flossing daily, are incredibly important. When brushing, take care not to brush too hard, as this can also contribute to damage.
Regular Check-ups and Cleaning
Seeing your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings is a vital part of caring for your oral health. See your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning and fluoride treatment. Fluoride helps to strengthen teeth, and is an essential part of an effective prevention strategy.
If you are concerned that you may be experiencing enamel erosion, or want to learn more about prevention and treatment, contact our Guelph Dentist’s office today! Our dedicated team of staff is waiting to chat with you about how we can help you achieve your best and healthiest smile!