Over a lifetime teeth will wear. The first signs of wear are subtle changes to the shape and texture of teeth and, if prevention is not addressed, these can lead to the teeth becoming shorter. Dentists believe the main risks are erosion from acids, tooth grinding, and ‘abrasion’ or rubbing. In many cases more than one of these factors is acting at the same time to cause your teeth to slowly wear away.
What is tooth erosion?
Erosive tooth wear is damage to teeth caused by acids, which can come from your stomach or your diet. Some people experience heartburn when their stomach acids travel back up to their mouths. This is rare but can dissolve your teeth and cause severe erosive tooth wear. The most common cause of tooth erosion is acidic foods and drinks. The outer tooth covering is called enamel and if the erosion continues it gradually wears away and then exposes the inside part called dentine, which is softer than enamel and wears faster.
What is tooth grinding?
Grinding or ‘bruxism’ is the wearing of teeth by rubbing against other teeth. Tooth grinding when asleep is quite common and is a way the body deals with stress.
What is abrasion?
Abrasion is the wearing of tooth enamel by rubbing against an object that is not another tooth. Examples include people who hold metal tools between their teeth or chew very rough and abrasive foods.
How do I know if I have tooth wear?
Most people will not notice there are signs of tooth wear and it is only when your dentist or hygienist sees it that you will be told. For some, sensitivity of tooth dentine can indicate that erosive tooth wear is active. Cold foods, such as ice cream, can cause a sharp pain lasting for a few moments whilst the food or drink is present in your mouth.
VISIT YOUR DENTIST
Your regular dental consultation will include an examination of your teeth and your dental team will look for the signs of tooth wear. Changes to the colour and shape of your teeth will guide them in their diagnosis. It is important to manage the cause which may involve changing your diet, requiring your dentist to make you a mouth guard to use at night and/or trying to break a habit that is causing the wear.
A BALANCED DIET
Common dietary foods and drinks associated with erosive tooth wear are fruit, fruit based and fizzy drinks. We need to follow a healthy balanced diet and fruit and fruit based drinks make up part of our daily requirements. Everyone should continue to eat fruit but snacking during the day increases the risk of developing erosive tooth wear. Keep fruit and fruit based drinks to mealtimes so you can continue to enjoy them but not risk damaqe to your teeth.
HEARTBURN / REFLUX
If you suffer from heartburn and your dentist finds erosive tooth wear they will suggest you go and see your doctor for advice. Not everyone who has heartburn will get erosive tooth wear but if you are in doubt ask your dentist.
TOOTHPASTES AND MOUTH RINSES
Toothpastes are formulated to release fluoride which hardens your enamel and dentine making it more resistant to acids. You should not brush your teeth straight after an acidic drink or meal: wait at least 30 minutes. Consider using a toothpaste which is formulated for tooth erosion. Mouth rinses are not a substitute for careful tooth brushing, but can help with tooth wear and sensitivity if they contain fluoride. They should be used when you don’t brush your teeth, ideally at lunch time.