The outer layer of your teeth is called the enamel. Its purpose is to protect your teeth from harmful bacteria and other substances. Due to its composition, enamel can provide structure to your teeth and prevent damage to the delicate inner portions. In fact, the enamel is the strongest tissue in your entire body. Although enamel is strong, there are ways that it can receive damage.
One potential harm to your enamel is erosion. You can think of enamel erosion in the same way you might consider the erosion of a mountain over time. As the seasons and weather change, there are more opportunities for rain, snow, or wind to change the surface of the mountain. Over time, the weather removes the top layers of the mountain. If you look at a time-lapse photo, you will see the mountain become smaller and the ridges less sharp.
This is the same for your enamel. As you eat and speak, your enamel wears down. While age does contribute to enamel erosion, there are other factors that can speed up the process.
Your diet can have a major impact on your enamel. Everything that passes through your mouth has the potential to strengthen or damage your enamel. If you have a diet that contains high amounts of sugar or acid, you can wear away your enamel prematurely.
Drinks like coffee and soda have a high acidity. The acid can chemically break down your enamel, weakening its structure. Additionally, anything that has higher levels of processed sugars has the potential to break down your enamel.
Technically, sugar is not the enemy of your enamel. It is the bacteria that live inside your mouth. These bacteria consume the sugar, creating an acid that erodes your enamel. If your diet has higher amounts of sugar and acid, you are more likely to develop tooth decay.
Grinding Your Teeth
Another type of erosion you can encounter is physical erosion. If we continue with the mountain analogy, physical erosion will occur when rocks fall down the mountain, breaking apart on the way down. With your teeth, physical erosion can occur if you grind your teeth. Teeth grinding or bruxism is a condition when someone grinds their teeth or clenches their jaw.
Typically, this behavior happens at night, but some people clench their teeth in response to stress, anxiety, or anger. Either way, the stress of grinding your teeth can wear down the overall shape and structure of your teeth. Additionally, the extra stress on the teeth can cause fractures or breakage.
Depending on the severity of your enamel erosion, your dentist has several options for you to try.
Your dentist can make recommendations for different types of toothpaste or mouthwash that can help limit your enamel erosion. If the erosion continues, they may recommend tooth bonding to restore the function of your enamel. For advanced erosion, your dentist is likely to recommend a dental crown.