It seems like a cruel irony that the very thing that helps us properly chew our food can also cause the downfall of our teeth. The deep groves in our molars and premolars are there to provide traction as we chew. These same deep grooves in teeth can trap food and bacteria, increasing our chances of tooth decay. Here’s what you need to know about these structures and how to keep your teeth healthy.

What causes deep grooves in teeth?

Deep grooves in teeth are a natural phenomenon that, for many people, don’t cause too much trouble. These are ridges and fissures on the chewing surfaces of the teeth. They allow us to grip food as we chew and break it down.

In some cases, though, deep grooves in teeth are exacerbated by a variety of factors. As people age, the biting force may be applied unevenly as they chew. This can cause the pits and fissures in teeth to deepen and expand. Also known as abfraction, over time this stress can cause fractures at the neck of the tooth.

Other factors that can cause grooves to deepen include:

  • Forceful brushing with a hard-bristled toothbrush
  • A diet high in acidic foods
  • Plaque build up
  • Acid reflux (or eating disorders like anorexia)
  • Bruxism or bite misalignment

In some cases, deep grooves will appear on the front teeth. These are rare but can be troubling as they affect both the function of the teeth and their aesthetic appeal.

Types of deep grooves in teeth

In 1960, researchers classified the different types of deep grooves in teeth based on their shape.

  • V type (34% of pits and fissures): Wider at the top, these gradually narrow and tend to not need any intervention beyond regular good oral hygiene.
  • U-type (14% of pits and fissures): This type of deep groove in teeth are also self-cleaning and don’t usually require intervention.
  • I-type (19% of pits and fissures): This shape of deep grooves in teeth is highly susceptible to cavity and tooth decay due to its regular and very narrow shape.
  • IK- type (26% of pits and fissures): This is the second most common type of deep groove, narrow at the top and wider at the bottom. Intervention is required to prevent rapid and serious decay, as bacteria is easily trapped in this shape.

The remaining 7% of pits and fissures don’t fall into a category and are thus not classified.

There is no one measurement that indicates whether deep grooves in teeth are too deep or just right. Mostly, patients will begin to experience challenges to their oral health that indicate the grooves have progressed.

Challenges with deep grooves in teeth

The biggest challenge with deep grooves in teeth is maintaining oral health. No matter how well you brush, the anatomy of deep grooves in teeth makes reaching all of the trapped bacteria nearly impossible.

Bacteria that are wedged in the teeth can begin to wear away the enamel and eat at the tooth itself. Pits in the enamel may be the first sign of tooth decay, even if the decay is advanced in the deepest part of the groove.

When grooves appear on the front teeth (most frequently on the incisors and the canines), the cosmetic appearance of the teeth can change. You would not necessarily notice a deep groove in your molar. However, you would definitely recognize coffee stains in the grooves on your canines when you smile.

Finally, tooth decay can be very painful and progress rapidly. If left untreated, this pain can cause you to chew differently, or to chew only on one side. Then not only will you have a cavity, but you will also throw your bite off and place additional stress on the opposite teeth. This could result in other oral health issues, such as uneven wear or pressure that results in cracked teeth (and maybe more cavities!).

How to clean deep grooves in teeth

Our teeth are not meant to be completely flat, but special care can be taken to keep their uneven structure clean and healthy.

Cleaning deep grooves in teeth is the best way to prevent cavities from forming, but it can be challenging. Brush properly twice a day at least, paying special attention to the back molars where pits and fissures can form. Brushing after sugary or highly acidic meals can also remove the acids that attack enamel and cause tooth decay.

Drink plenty of water to keep the mouth hydrated and rinse away any residue that may be left behind.

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