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What Is Enamel?

What Is Enamel Erosion & What Causes It?

When your dentist says you have enamel erosion, you need to pay attention. The reason for this is because the enamel is the shield of protection against anything that we drink and eat. The enamel is also the white part of your teeth which means it affects how your teeth look. To better understand enamel erosion, you need first to learn more about the enamel itself.

The enamel is the thin outer covering of your teeth. It is a tough shell which is considered to be the hardest tissue in a human body. The enamel is the part of the teeth that covers the crown (the crown is the part of the teeth that is visible outside the gums). Due to the fact that the enamel is translucent, you can easily see through it. The part of the teeth that is responsible for the color of the teeth is the dentine. The dentine is what determines if your teeth are grey, white, off white or yellowish.

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Over the years, the foods that you take can stain your enamel. The main foods known to stain/discolor the enamel are red wines, coffee, tea, cola, fruit juices, and cigarettes. The majority of surface stains can be removed with regular visits to the dentist for routine cleaning and polishing.

The primary work of the enamel is to protect your teeth from daily use like biting, chewing, grinding and crunching. The enamel is also the part that insulates the teeth from potentially painful chemicals and temperatures.

However, although the enamel is the hardest tissue in the body, it can crack and chip. Unlike a broken bone that can be repaired by the body, once the enamel breaks or chips, it will be damaged forever. The body is not able to repair cracked or chipped enamel because the enamel has no living cells. Considering how important the enamel is, you need to pay close attention when your dentist brings up enamel erosion.

How Is Enamel Worn Away?

In spite of it having the hardest tissues in the body, the enamel has a major weakness; pH. The enamel is made of carbonated calcium hydroxyapatite. It has an estimated pH of 5.5. One of the works of the saliva is to neutralize the acids around the enamel and to maintain a balance. Saliva also replaces phosphate and calcium ions which help strengthen the enamel. However, if saliva is not able to keep up with the acids, enamel erosion will result.

Enamel erosion takes place when acids wear the enamel on the teeth away. There are many things that can cause tooth erosion:

  • Excessive consumption of soft drinks more so drinks with high levels of citric and phosphoric acids.
  • Fruit drinks: Some acids in the fruit drinks have been found to be more erosive than battery acid.
  • Low salivary flow or dry mouth: This is a condition known as xerostomia.
  • Diet: Taking foods high in sugars and starches will eventually lead to enamel erosion.
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors such as friction, corrosion, wear and tear and stress.
  • Medications such as antihistamines and aspirin can cause tooth erosion.
  • Acid reflux disease (GERD)

It is good to also note that some enamel erosions are just part of aging. Over time, the enamel will start to wear away.

ENAMEL EROSION & DIET

The main cause of enamel erosion is your diet. When eating a healthy, balanced diet, your diet will not be too damaging. On the other hand, if you drink a lot of sodas every day, your enamel will damage very fast.

The best thing you can do is talk to your dentist regarding your diet habits. Your dentist will help decide on the lifestyle modifications to make to prevent enamel erosion.

According to Ferraz-Dougherty, the main cause of tooth erosion is drinks: sports drinks, sodas, and sweet tea. Sweat tea is more damaging because it is more acidic than soda and has a lot of sugar. The acids in beverages will wear down your enamel and the sugars will cause cavities to develop. All in all, sugar-free drinks don’t necessarily mean you are in the clear either. Some sugar free drinks are quite acidic too.

Medical Problems Tat Cause Enamel Erosion

Medical problems can also cause enamel erosion. This is more so if you vomit frequently or have acid reflux. These two expose your teeth repeatedly to the stomach acid which cause pitting in the enamel. The risk is increased when you are asleep because during this time you produce less saliva. The protection around your enamel is hence reduced when sleeping.

According to Ferraz-Dougherty, most people don’t realize that enamel erosion is taking place until it is already too late. This is why you need to make regular visits to your dentist. By simply looking at a specific pattern of wear in the mouth, the dentist will be able to tell if you have enamel erosion. With acid reflux that takes place while you are sleeping, the dentist will see it on the side of the mouth that you predominantly sleep on. Persons that are bulimic will have enamel loss on the inside surfaces of their upper teeth.

It is also good to note that the grinding of teeth can cause the physical wear of the enamel. Your dentist will be able to tell if the wear on the enamel is a result of grinding. He will also recommend a solution.

Brushing Can Harm The Enamel

After taking something acidic, it is tempting to take your toothbrush in order to banish bad breath and eradicate the acid. Regardless of how tempting it is to brush, you should wait at least 30 minutes after eating before you brush your teeth. The reason for this is because after you eat or drink something acidic, your enamel will be more delicate. Your saliva will wash away the acids and re-mineralize the teeth as well as fortify the enamel. Brushing right away can cause more problems to your enamel.

It is for this reason that people with dry mouth as a result of the medication end up getting more cavities. This is because the reduced production of saliva reduces the protection that the teeth have. Chewing sugar-gum that has xylitol can help stimulate saliva production as well as reduce the acids in the mouth.

Another great thing about chewing gum is that it helps prevent bad breath while you wait to brush your teeth. When you brush after eating something acidic, skip the use of toothpaste that has baking soda as it will be more abrasive to your teeth.

PLAQUE & ENAMEL EROSION

Plaque is a sticky film made of saliva, bacteria, food particles and other substances. It forms between the teeth and gets inside holes or pits in the molars. It can also get in cavity fillings and proceed to the gum line where the teeth and the gums meet.

The bacteria in plaque can change the food starches into acids. When this happens, the acid will eat away at the healthy minerals in the enamel of your teeth. Over time, the enamel will wear down and get pitted. If no action is taken, the pits will get bigger.

Signs of Enamel Erosion

The signs of enamel erosion vary depending on the stage. The common signs include the following:

  • Sensitivity: Certain foods and temperatures of food can cause pain in the early stages of enamel erosion.
  • Discoloration: As the enamel erodes and dentine gets exposed, the teeth may start to turn yellow.
  • Chips and cracks: Edges of the teeth may become rough, jagged and irregular as the enamel erodes.
  • Painful sensitivity: In the later stages of teeth erosion, the teeth become extremely sensitive to sweets and temperatures.
  • Cupping: Indentations may appear on the surface of the affected teeth.

Teeth become more sensitive to cavities and decay after the enamel erodes. When the decay gets through the hard enamel, it has entered the main body of your tooth. At first, the small cavities will not cause any issue but as they grow and get deeper into the tooth they will affect the nerve fibers thus causing extreme pain or infection.

How To Prevent Enamel Loss

To prevent enamel erosion you need to keep your teeth healthy, brush, floss and rinse daily using fluoride and antiseptic mouthwash. You also need to visit your dentist at least once every six months for a checkup and cleaning. You also need to avoid habits and foods that cause enamel loss.

We are a Family Friendly Practice

At Molson Park Dental Office, we provide family dentistry services. Toronto and Barrie dentist, Dr. Adam Chapnick works with every child to build trust and comfort through the entire dental visit process.

TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR ENAMEL EROSION

If you start noticing symptoms of enamel erosion such as increased teeth sensitivity or discolored teeth, you should see your dentist right away. The dentist will evaluate the condition and select a suitable course of action. Making some lifestyle changes can help prevent further enamel erosion. If the condition is not serious, your dentist will recommend that you brush your teeth using toothpaste that has fluoride or rinse with mouthwash that contains fluoride.

If the erosion is extreme and you need cosmetic changes, cosmetic dentistry will come in handy. Your dentist may recommend the use of crowns and veneers to give you healthy white teeth. If you have lost the enamel at the gum-line, fillings can be put in the affected areas.  

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