As we age, teeth naturally begin to wear down. This is normal and to be expected as we eat and drink our way through life. But what happens if the enamel of your teeth are disappearing at an alarming rate? Excessively worn teeth can have repercussions for your oral health. Here’s what you need to know.
Should I be worried about my worn teeth?
While some wear is normal, there are cases where excessively worn teeth are a cause for action. When enamel begins to thin, the inner dentin of the teeth – the soft pulp with nerve endings and blood vessels – becomes exposed. As a result, teeth may become increasingly sensitive to hot and cold temperatures.
Without a protective coating of enamel, this sensitivity can progress to pain. Exposed dentin is also more vulnerable to tooth decay and cavities. Once tooth decay begins it can progress rapidly to other dental conditions if left untreated, including periodontal disease, dental abscess, and tooth loss.
Superficially, excessively worn teeth can cause “bite collapse.” This condition comes with characteristic sagging cheeks and downturned mouth as the teeth no longer fill up as much of your face as they used to. This complication of worn teeth can add years to your face as it takes life off your teeth.
Do worn teeth have to mean a swift progression to more painful conditions? Nope. But exposed dentin is necessarily more vulnerable, and if you are not a regular visitor to your dentist your chances of complications due to worn teeth increase.
What causes worn teeth?
There are four basic types of tooth wear, including:
- Abrasion: This type of tooth wear occurs when an outside abrasive force causes thinning and removal of enamel
- Attrition: Tooth-on-tooth friction causes attrition
- Erosion: Tooth erosion is a direct result of using teeth as tools (e.g., biting fingernails and opening bottles)
- Abfraction: Abfraction is wear that occurs at the neck of the tooth, near the gum line
Each of these types of tooth wear shares one common cause. Bruxism is arguably the most destructive condition that threatens your oral health. Tooth grinding and jaw clenching, especially if it occurs in conjunction with any of the other causes below, causes exponential tooth wear.
Other causes of worn teeth include:
- Workplace factors: Fine grit and dust in the workplace can cause increasingly worn teeth. You may not notice it, but this grit and dust can make its way into your food and works with your regular action of chewing to increase wear.
- Diet: A diet high in acidic food and drink softens the tooth’s enamel and makes it vulnerable to excessive wear.
- Health conditions: Dry mouth (xerostomia), anorexia, gastro-esophageal reflex disease (GERD), and bulimia all can lead to excessive tooth wear.
- Enamel thickness: People with genetically thinner enamel will see more dental attrition over time.
Can you restore teeth enamel?
First, the bad news. Once enamel is gone, it’s gone. Your body cannot regrow enamel that has worn away. However, it is possible to strengthen and fortify the enamel that remains.
Remineralization with toothpaste helps by bonding minerals like fluoride and calcium phosphate to teeth in areas of weakness. This helps protect against further wear and possible worsening oral health.
How to fix worn teeth
Worn teeth repair starts with lifestyle changes that further protect your oral (and overall) health.
If you have spent your life consuming a steady diet of sugary drinks and highly acidic processed foods, now is a good time to make some changes. Not only do these foods break down enamel and increase the possibility of wear, they also work against you as you try to build strong bones (including teeth). Just eliminating all sodas and juices (including sugar-free versions of both) can greatly improve your oral health (and shrink your belly!).
Learning how to properly brush your teeth (and laying off the a