Enamel is the hard outer surface layer of the teeth that serves to protect against tooth decay. In fact, it is the hardest mineral substance in the body, even stronger than bone. Enamel protects the teeth from everyday biting, chewing, grinding and crunching. Though enamel is a hardest substance, it can also crack and chip. Tooth enamel erosion is a wearing and breakdown of the outer surface layer of the teeth. Once a tooth chips or breaks, the damage is life-long, because enamel contains no living cells and the body cannot restore the cracked or chipped enamel.
Causes of Tooth Enamel Erosion
Tooth enamel erosion occurs with the acids that are produced from foods and drinks. These acids wear away the teeth enamel. Enamel erosion is caused by following factors:
- Fruits drinks (certain acids present in fruit drinks are highly erosive)
- Excess consumption of soft drinks (contain high levels of citric and phosphoric acids)
- Diet rich in sugars and starches
- Low salivary flow or dry mouth
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Acid reflux disease
- Genetic factor
- Certain medications like antihistamines and aspirin
- Environmental factors like stress, corrosion, friction, wear and tear
Environmental Causes of Tooth Enamel Erosion
Stress, wear and tear, corrosion and friction can cause tooth enamel erosion. These mechanisms are described by some clinical terms which include:
Abrasion – This is a physical wear and tear of the tooth surface which results from vigorous brushing, improper flossing, chewing tobacco and biting on hard objects.
Attrition – This is a natural tooth to tooth friction which occurs when you grind or clench your teeth as in bruxism, which happens during sleep.
Abfraction – This is a fracture in the tooth that results from stress activities like bending or flexing of the tooth.
Corrosion – This occurs when the acids hit the tooth surface with highly acidic foods, medications like vitamin C or aspirin, frequent vomiting from alcoholism and bulimia (illness in which a person binges on food or has regular episodes of overeating and feels a loss of control)
Saliva also plays a prominent role in keeping teeth healthy and fit. Saliva not only maintains the tissue health, it even protects the teeth enamel by coating the teeth with calcium and other mineral substances. Saliva even dilates acids, boosts protective substances that combat bacteria and disease and remove toxins from the mouth. However, when you eat and drink lots of acidic foods and drinks, this strengthening effect of saliva on teeth no longer happens, leading to enamel erosion.
Symptoms of Tooth Enamel Erosion
Depending upon the erosion stage, the symptoms of enamel erosion vary. They include:
Discoloration – As enamel is worn away and more dentin is exposed, the teeth appears to be yellow.
Sensitivity – Temperatures of foods (cold or hot) and certain foods (sweet) can cause sharp pain in the initial stage of enamel erosion.
Chips and cracks – The teeth edges become irregular, broken and rough as enamel erodes.
Severe, unbearable sensitivity – In final stages of enamel erosion, teeth becomes extreme sensitive to sweets and temperatures.
Cupping – Impressions or indentations appear on the teeth surface.
As the enamel erodes, the teeth become more susceptible to tooth decay or caries. As the decay enters the enamel, it can easily enter into the main body of the tooth.
Small cavities do not cause any problem in the initial stage. However, as the cavities penetrate into the tooth, they affect nerve endings, resulting in painful infection or abscess.
Treatment for Tooth Enamel Erosion
Tooth enamel erosion is treated depending on the condition. In some cases, tooth bonding is applied to protect the teeth from further erosion and improve cosmetic appearance.
Crowns are also recommended to cover the tooth. This also helps in protecting the tooth from further damage.
Care / Prevention of Tooth Enamel Erosion
To prevent enamel erosion and maintain healthy teeth, you need to follow some self care tips. Also make sure to brush, floss and clean your teeth every day. Also see the dentist twice a year and for regular cleaning.
Cut down high acid foods – Avoid highly acid containing foods and drinks from your diet. Reduce the intake of lemons, citrus fruits, carbonated sodas and juices. Clean your teeth immediately after eating or drinking such foods and drinks.
Concentrate on your snacking – Avoid excess snacking as it increases the risks of tooth decay. It is good to rinse your mouth and brush your teeth after munching them heavily.
Chew sugar-free gums – Chewing gum improves saliva production nearly 10 times more than the normal. Saliva strengthens the teeth with minerals. Always opt for sugar-free gums.
Drink excess water – If you have dry mouth or low saliva volume, then drinking excess water throughout the day helps.
Fluoride products – Fluoride strengthens the teeth, thus make fluoride as an important ingredient in your toothpaste. Use fluoride containing toothpaste, mouth wash to help prevent enamel erosion.
Effects of Too Much Fluoride
Although fluoride is helpful in preventing tooth decay, too much of it can also cause problems like enamel fluorosis. This can usually occur in children and can cause defects in the teeth enamel.
Enamel fluorosis in children occurs due to ingestion of fluoride through supplements or drinking water. Also, children have the habit of swallowing toothpaste which also increases the risk of enamel fluorosis. In this conditions, the teeth are pitted, discolored and are difficult to clean.