Plaque and the bacteria that feed on it are the culprits behind cavities. But, the microbes in your mouth aren’t responsible for enamel erosion. If the pearly white outer layer of your teeth is wearing away, take a look at the what’s, how’s, and why’s of this all too common dental dilemma.
What Is Enamel?
Before we answer the question, “What is enamel erosion?” you need to know what enamel is. Enamel is the white part of your teeth that acts as a hard outer coating and is visible when you open your mouth or smile. In a healthy mouth, enamel covers the softer dentin and pulp layers. The enamel protects your teeth during normal daily use.
Erosion happens when enamel wears away. Unlike your skin, which also serves a protective function, enamel doesn’t regenerate, meaning it won’t repair itself or come back.
How Does Erosion Happen?
There are several different causes for enamel erosion, like mechanical processes of the mouth, which can result in this type of dental damage. The mechanical or physical activities that can result in enamel erosion include:
- Brushing: Even though brushing your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes can lead to a healthy mouth, overdoing it or brushing too forcefully can lead to erosion.
- Grinding: Stress and anxiety can cause some people to grind their teeth. This motion wears away the outer surface of the teeth involved.
- Biting: If you bite your nails, chew hard items (such as ice), or use your teeth to open bottle caps, you run the risk of removing the enamel.
Along with physical erosion, enamel can wear away by chemical methods. These methods typically include acidic wear on teeth and can come from sources such as:
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD): Stomach acid that rises up through the esophagus and into the mouth can wear away enamel. This situation is often the result of GERD, a digestive disorder that happens after eating.
- Vomiting: Vomiting every once in a while, like during a stomach virus, won’t erode the enamel of your teeth. But, constant vomiting can bathe the teeth in enamel eroding stomach acid. People with the eating disorder bulimia are at an increased risk for this process and the resulting erosion.
- Alcoholism: Like with vomiting, an infrequent alcoholic drink won’t ruin your teeth. But chronic alcoholism can result in enamel erosion. According to one study of 1,064 teeth from the North Alcoholic Regional Centre, almost 50 percent of the teeth (belonging to alcoholics) had enamel erosion.
- Soft drinks: The high levels of citric and phosphoric acids in soft drinks can lead to enamel erosion. Like some of the other causes, you need to consistently drink sizable quantities of soft drinks to see this undesirable result.
- Fruit drinks: Along with the decay-causing sugar in juices, fruit-based drinks are often highly acidic. Drinks such as grapefruit, cranberry, or orange juice can cause enamel erosion over time when ingested in large quantities.
Even though physical and acidic causes are major culprits behind enamel erosion, some dental patients experience this issue as a result of medication use (especially with prolonged aspirin use), as a genetic condition, or from dry mouth (low saliva).
Why is Enamel Erosion Important?
Without the protective layer the dentin is left exposed. This exposure may cause discomfort or sensitivity. Along with sensitive teeth, exposed dentin shows through as a yellow color. If you’re looking for a celebrity-white smile, exposed dentin will ruin your pearly white look.
Reducing acidic intake, increasing dairy product intake (especially at the ends of meals), and visiting the dentist regularly can help to reduce the risks of enamel erosion.
Do you have existing erosion? Contact the office of Kenneth M. Schweizer, DDS, PA for more information.