Tooth enamel is the hard outer shell on the surface of your tooth that protects the softer inner tooth material known as dentin. The primary materials in enamel are calcium and phosphorus (calcium phosphate), which bond with water and amelogenin (protein) to form a crystalline material called hydroxyapatite. It’s not too different from the pearlescent interior of seashells.What happens if the enamel wears down and thins? Tooth erosion happens over time due to wear and tear, medications, teeth grinding, dry mouth, acid reflux, genetics, and due to acidic foods and beverages like citrus fruits and juice drinks.Exposed dentin can cause sensitivity to cold and hot foods and beverages. Enamel does not grow back. It has to be repaired. How does one restore thinning enamel?
Common Signs of Tooth Erosion
Thin tooth enamel is possible if you find your teeth ache when you drink cold water or eat something hot, such as soup. Other signs include worn edges on the teeth that are used for biting and chewing. Yellowing teeth are also indicative of worn enamel, as the dentin is yellowish.During a cleaning, your dentist or hygienist may tell you that your enamel is thinning. If not, ask if there are signs. It’s best to address it as soon as you can and find ways to protect your enamel.
Tips for Helping Prevent Tooth Erosion
What can you do to protect the enamel on your teeth? Here’s a list of steps you should take.
Change What You Drink and Eat
Start by changing what you drink. If you enjoy soda, sugary teas, and sports drinks, try to stop. The sugar and acids in them can damage the enamel over time. If you have to have them, drink them with a straw. That helps direct the liquid to the back of the throat and away from the teeth.Avoid sugary foods. You might love that afternoon candy bar as a pick-me-up, but it’s going to increase plaque from the sugar. Eat a handful of roasted almonds instead.
Drink Water or Milk With Your Meals
When you have a meal, wash it down with water. Water helps wash away and dilute some of the acid. You could also have milk, which contains calcium and can help neutralize acids. In between meals, make water your first choice for beverages.
Switch to an Electric Toothbrush
Use an electric toothbrush, especially one that has a round brush head and spins in a circle or rotates in half circles. Studies have shown that electric toothbrushes remove more plaque. After you brush, use a fluoride mouth rinse to coat the teeth in fluoride. Don’t drink water for an hour or two after brushing your teeth.When you’re shopping for a new electric toothbrush, pay attention to the technology. Many of today’s electric toothbrushes connect with apps that tell you if you’re brushing too hard, taking enough time on each tooth, and missing any areas while you’re brushing. You might also want to get a toothbrush combination that also has a water flosser that uses a powerful spray of water to remove plaque along the gumline and between the teeth.
Chew Xylitol Gum When You Can’t Brush
Give your saliva time to wash away some of the acidic foods and liquids you’ve ingested, and be sure you brush shortly after your meal. Brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush and don’t push down too hard. If you can’t brush your teeth an hour later, chew gum, especially gum containing xylitol.Studies find that xylitol is antimicrobial and can help reduce the amount of acid produced. This reduces the amount of plaque that’s able to form and can help protect the enamel. Stock up on gum where the main ingredient is xylitol and chew it after and between meals. One word of warning is to keep xylitol gum away from your pets. Xylitol is toxic to dogs, but keep it out of reach and it’s not a problem.
Stop Smoking and Drinking Alcohol
Smoking is a bad habit when you have weakening tooth enamel. Take steps to stop smoking. It’s a tough habit to break, but it’s one of the best steps you can take towards a healthy lifestyle. If you need help, talk to your doctor about smoking cessation products and prescriptions. You may also want to join a support group for smokers who are trying to stop.Alcohol is damaging to the enamel. At the bare minimum, you should limit how much you drink each day. When you do have a drink or two while you’re out with friends, rinse your mouth after with a glass of water. At home, make sure your mouthwash does not contain alcohol.
How Do You Repair or Restore Tooth Enamel?
What if the damage is done? How do you repair thinning tooth enamel? Taking steps to slow the wear is a good start, but it won’t repair or restore it. Scientists at UCSF School of Medicine are working on ways to grow dentin and enamel in a lab, but it’s still a work in progress. What can you do?
Talk to your dentist about an enamel-strengthening toothpaste. Fluoride is important in helping strengthen the minerals in tooth enamel. Look for a toothpaste that contains higher levels of fluoride. You might want to ask your dentist about prescription toothpaste that has high sodium fluoride and potassium nitrate levels. Once you know what toothpaste is recommended, use it regularly. Brush and floss after each meal.
Another option would be sealants. Sealants form a bond over weakening enamel. It won’t last forever, so sealants need to be checked and reapplied as needed. To apply a sealant, your dentist cleans your tooth and applies an acidic gel that prepares the surface. The gel is rinsed off and the sealant is brushed on. A special light is used to set the sealant and form the protective bond.
Yearly Professional Cleanings
Go for regular cleanings. You want to have your teeth cleaned regularly to remove plaque and tartar, both of which damage enamel and increase the risk of tooth decay. Your dentist may recommend three or four cleanings a year. If they’re recommended, it’s worth talking to your insurance. Some do cover multiple cleanings per year to prevent gum disease.
Do you suffer from dry mouth due to a health condition or prescription medication? Dry mouth increases the risk of tooth erosion. Ask your dentist or doctor about options that lower the risk of dry mouth. You may need to use products designed to ease dry mouth or see if there is a different medication that treats your condition without causing side effects like dry mouth. Keep water next to your bed at night to keep your mouth moist.
Talk to a dentist that specializes in cosmetic dentistry. Ask specifically about veneers. Veneers are bonded to existing teeth forming a porcelain shell that adds protection and restores a whiter color to your yellowing tooth.Would you like to learn more about prescription toothpaste, sealants, or veneers? Our office can help address your problems with discomfort when eating hot and cold items and tooth enamel erosion. Schedule a consultation with Dr. Jody Jones today.