According to the National Institute of Health, over half of American adults have experienced some degree of loss in tooth enamel, and approximately 33 percent of children also have shown evidence of enamel loss. The loss of tooth enamel is a serious thing, is often very painful and for many patients leads to significant dental problems.
The protection of tooth enamel is very important to the health of the teeth, and a patient’s overall oral health. Enamel is the dense, white, bone-like material that covers the tooth, and serves much like armor to protect the inner sensitive parts of the tooth. Enamel is the hardest substance found in the body, and despite it being only just a few millimeters thick is very strong. It keeps out keeps out dangerous foreign particles that can cause infection and tooth decay, protects the tooth from injury and plays a very important role in the ability to chew.
In order to prevent tooth enamel erosion, it is necessary to know the causes of it. Tooth enamel is most frequently caused by what a person eats and drinks. Acidic foods and drinks are the number one cause of the loss of enamel. Foods that have high levels of acid include citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato products and fruit juices.
Foods and drinks that are high in sugar, like sticky snacks, sodas, and candy, are also known culprits behind the condition. Even potato chips, pasta, and other carbohydrate-heavy selections have high levels of sugar. Sugar is especially dangerous to the teeth because high levels of sugar in the mouth cause the body to produce an acidic response, which in turn increases the risk of erosion. Some sugary drinks and sodas are also high in phosphorus, another damaging element that leads to erosion. Diet sodas are also dangerous for tooth enamel, and cause the same amount of damage as regular sodas.
Other causes of enamel loss include dry mouth and conditions that impede saliva production, acid reflux, and gastrointestinal issues. Some medications, such as antihistamines, also can cause tooth erosion by creating an acidic environment in the mouth. Bruxism, or the grinding of the teeth, can also wear down tooth enamel, as well as improper or too frequent tooth brushing.
Enamel erosion can be prevented by avoiding foods and beverages that are high in acid and sugar. For patients that have the condition as a result of tooth grinding, the use of a night guard can protect the teeth from wear and tear. For patients with gastrointestinal disorders that cause their acid erosion, medical treatments for their condition can help reduce the acid generation. Despite these available treatments, not all patients can prevent enamel erosion, as it is sometimes caused by genetics and disease.
Enamel erosion happens gradually over time. One of enamel erosion is tooth sensitivity, in which the teeth become painfully sensitive to hot and cold foods. Some patients also experience yellowing of teeth, which occurs because the enamel thins so much that the soft, yellow dentin beneath it can be seen. Physical damage to the teeth such as rough edges, chips, and cracks is also an indicator of enamel issues. Tooth enamel erosion also makes patients more susceptible to cavities and tooth decay.
Most dental patients who have tooth enamel loss are not aware of their condition until a checkup with their dentist. "Patients visit their dentist looking for treatments for the side effects such as tooth sensitivity or even looking for tooth whitening, and are often completely unaware that they have a problem with their enamel," says Dr. Steven P. Rogers, D.M.D., P.S., a Grant’s Pass, Oregon, dentist.
"Unfortunately, enamel cannot be restored," says Rogers. Enamel does not have the ability to regenerate like other cells in the body, so damage is irreversible. This does not mean that enamel erosion cannot be treated, however. "Enamel erosion can be treated in a few different ways," says Rogers.
One such way is through bonding. "Bonding is ideal for patients whose erosion isn’t severe." During the bonding process, a resin is applied to the tooth or teeth that have eroded. This strengthens the teeth, protecting them from further damage. Another way to treat erosion is through the application of a crown. Crowns are used in cases of significant damage and can help protect the tooth from additional erosion and decay, and allow the tooth to function as intended during eating and drinking.
Other treatments that patients can undergo to help to mitigate tooth enamel erosion include fluoride treatments and using toothpaste and other dental products fortified with fluoride. Fluoride can help defend the teeth by strengthening and fortifying remaining enamel through a process call remineralization. "Fluoride is very important to the defense of the teeth – both before and after enamel loss."
Rogers encourages patients to see their dentist regularly for checkups and discuss their concerns of enamel loss. "The sooner enamel loss is identified, the better," says Rogers.