The toughest substance in your body isn’t your bones—it’s actually the outside of your teeth! Your enamel keeps your teeth protected so you can chew hard and crunchy foods without having to worry, and prevents harmful bacteria from the outside world from entering your teeth and causing infection and decay.
However, not even your tooth enamel is impervious to harm, and enamel erosion is one of the main issues that preventive dental care tries to address. Certain foods, bodily fluids, and poor oral hygiene can all contribute to the loss of enamel on teeth, which can come with symptoms like sensitivity, staining of the teeth, cavities, and (if left untreated) eventual decay of the entire tooth. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent enamel and tooth erosion before it’s too late.
What Is Tooth Enamel?
Tooth enamel is a thin, translucent covering of incredibly hard material that coats the outside of your teeth. Even baby teeth have enamel, although it is thinner than enamel coverings on adult teeth, and it’s the primary chewing surface and defensive compound for your teeth. Enamel is mostly composed of minerals like calcium and phosphate, and depends on a regular intake of minerals from your diet.
Enamel Erosion Symptoms
Teeth with enamel loss tend to start exhibiting symptoms that have to do with losing their hardness and exposing the porous layer of the tooth (called “dentin”) underneath. Symptoms of enamel erosion include:
- Increased sensitivity to taste, textures, and temperature.
- Cracks and chips on the surface of your teeth, as well as indentations known as “cups.”
- Discoloration from certain foods affecting the inner layer of teeth.
- In some instances, you may feel a sharp pain as the inner nerve is exposed to outside stimuli.
If tooth enamel loss is not prevented or treated, it can also lead to general tooth erosion. When the enamel is lost, harmful bacteria can infiltrate the porous dentin and affect the tooth’s inner blood supply and nerve—a layer called the “pulp.” Bacteria can corrode the tooth structure and infect the tooth’s root, which travels deep into the jaw bone, causing pain, swelling, and degradation of the root and even surrounding bone tissue. When this happens, the tooth may need to be fully extracted to remove the source of infection and contain the spread of decay.
What Are the Causes of Tooth Enamel Erosion?
Enamel loss can happen from a few different causes, but the most common one is the presence of acid from the foods and drinks you consume. Saliva works to neutralize the acid that’s always present in your mouth, but consistently consuming a diet high in certain foods will lead to enamel erosion over time. Bacteria in your mouth also feed on sugars and produce corrosive substances as a byproduct, meaning that foods that are full of sugars or starches can also contribute to erosion. Some foods to avoid to prevent tooth enamel loss include:
- Sugary food like ice cream, candy, and caramel.
- Starchy foods like white bread or pastry.
- Acidic fruits like apples, citrus, berries, and rhubarb.
- Sodas, Fruit drinks, and juices for both their sugar and acid content.
- Excess vitamin C, found in citrus fruits.
In addition to your diet and oral hygiene, there are other causes for enamel erosion that range from environmental factors to medical conditions. For example, grinding your teeth, biting your nails, chewing hard substances, and using oral tobacco are all non-dietary causes of enamel erosion. Others include:
- Acid reflux or other disorders that cause frequent vomiting.
- Low saliva flow, which can be a symptom of conditions like diabetes.
- Regular use of medications like antihistamines or aspirin.
- Genetic disorders that affect tooth development from birth.
How Can Loss of Enamel Be Prevented?
The easiest and most crucial component of preventing enamel and tooth erosion is a good teeth cleaning process which includes daily brushing, flossing, and use of fluoride mouthwash. This prevents the buildup of bacteria which causes plaque, a sticky, acidic substance that erodes enamel over continuous contact. Seeing a dentist every six months for a cleaning and examination is also important.
You should also try to consume less sugary or acidic foods, and be sure to drink more water to both rinse your mouth out and increase saliva flow. Use a straw when consuming sugary, acidic, or carbonated beverages to minimize the contact of these substances with your teeth. Finishing meals with a glass of milk or snacking on cheese will also help to neutralize acids, and chewing sugarless gum between meals can help to clean the teeth and boost saliva flow.
Finally, using a fluoride mouthwash and toothpaste can help to remineralize your enamel. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that works at a microscopic level to “plug” holes in the enamel, slowing decay and fending off erosion.
Can Enamel Be Restored?
Unfortunately, unlike bones which can repair breaks and bone loss by making more tissue, there are no living cells in your enamel—meaning that once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. However, using fluoride products and consuming more minerals and vitamins, especially calcium, can remineralize the surface of your teeth and delay erosion. In some cases, remineralization can even stop the progression of a cavity in its tracks without the need for a filling.
Treatment for enamel loss is difficult and mostly aimed and preventing more erosion. Some dentists may offer sealants, which are liquid plastic-like substances that are brushed over the teeth and then cured to make them hard. This offers a temporary shield for the tooth enamel but does not replace the enamel itself. If too much enamel is lost, your dentist may place a crown or cap on the tooth to prevent further tooth erosion.
Your enamel is one of your most valuable assets when it comes to having healthy teeth, and it’s better to protect what you have than look for options once it’s gone! That’s why Champagne Family Dentistry is ready to provide preventive dentistry services in Sparks and South Reno so that our patients can enjoy their lives without worrying about what’s happening to their enamel. If you or a family member have questions about enamel loss or general oral health, our friendly and experienced dental staff are ready to help. Call today or visit our website to schedule your first appointment!