You might be aware that tooth enamel is the strongest substance in your body.
That semi-clear, hard outer layer that protects your teeth not only keeps you from feeling the hot and cold things you eat and drink but also provides a barrier to acids and chemicals that can damage your teeth.
Unfortunately, your tooth enamel can be damaged and worn down.
Tooth wear tends to be more prevalent in developed countries like Australia and increases with age.
What causes tooth wear?
Tooth wear occurs in three distinct ways: abrasion, attrition, and erosion (although it’s not unusual for two or all three types to occur together).
Erosion is the progressive loss of tooth substance by chemical or acid dissolution. The most common cause is too frequent consumption of carbonated drinks and fruit juices with high levels of acidity.
Attrition is the progressive loss of hard tooth substances caused by chewing food or grinding against opposing teeth. It’s more pronounced in people who habitually clench or grind their teeth and those who eat a particularly fibrous diet.
Abrasion is caused by repeated actions other than chewing and tooth-to-tooth contact. It’s commonly associated with incorrect brushing technique but is also caused by using your teeth as a tool (for example to hold pins, clips, or nails) or chewing on pens, pencils or toothpicks.
How to prevent tooth wear
The most effective ways to prevent tooth wear are to eliminate the behaviours and actions that are the most common causes.
1. Brush your teeth the right way
Incorrect brushing technique is a very common cause of abrasion.
Vigorous horizontal scrubbing with a hard toothbrush should be avoided.
The circular motion of the head of an electric toothbrush is effective without being abrasive.
If you’re brushing manually, use a soft or medium brush with short strokes and gentle scrubbing.
The abrasiveness of your toothpaste can also vary. Toothpastes that are supposed to remove staining are often more abrasive, so if abrasion is an issue you should switch to a less abrasive toothpaste.
Additionally, you shouldn’t brush your teeth too soon after eating, as that’s when the enamel has been softened by acids. Whenever possible, wait at least hour, particularly after having acidic foods or drinks.
2. Don’t clench or grind your teeth
For those who suffer from bruxism – excessive grinding of the teeth – stopping it might be easier said than done, but it’s the only way to reduce the impact of attrition.
If you grind your teeth while you sleep, you should get a dental splint or night guard (and use it).
If you clench or grind your teeth during the day – for example when under stress or during periods of intense activity – perhaps you could chew sugar-free gum to alleviate that repeated direct tooth-to-tooth contact.
You might also consider a mouthguard, at least for a period that might help you break the habit.
3. Eliminate highly acidic drinks from your diet
Reducing the frequency of drinking carbonated drinks and fruit juices with high levels of acidity is the key to preventing erosion of the teeth.
If you enjoy these sorts of drinks, it might be too much to expect that you stop drinking them altogether, but there are some ways to modify your behaviour to significantly reduce the impact on your teeth.
Drinking through a straw will help the damaging acids bypass your teeth. You should also make sure you don’t swish the liquid around in your mouth.
Drinking with meals is better than drinking without food, as some of the foods you eat will rebalance the pH levels in your mouth, while the saliva produced while eating will help, too.
If you do regularly drink fizzy soft drinks or acidic fruit juice, follow that by chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva flow and wash acids away.
What else can I do?
In general, drinking water regularly is a good thing for your teeth (as well as the rest of your body).
Hydration is important to our general wellbeing and, in this context, it also does the best job of washing acidic substances off your teeth (so do swish the water around in your mouth before swallowing).
If you can finish a meal with a glass of milk or a piece of cheese, that will also help neutralise the acids, as dairy has a higher pH value, while acidic foods have a lower pH.
If you feel the need to freshen your breath soon after eating, chew sugar-free gum or use a fluoride mouthwash and leave the toothbrushing until later.
And, of course, regular check-ups will make sure that no issue gets out of hand before we have a chance to address it.
As we always say, prevention is better than cure, so call and make an appointment to see us soon.