Have you noticed that your teeth are wearing down? Perhaps they just look shorter, or you’ve noticed that your teeth, where the edges have worn, look darker and discoloured? The two questions most people ask are why is this, and what can I do about it?
In this blog post, our London dentist, Dr Kala Jones, takes a detailed look at tooth wear, tooth grinding, its causes and treatment.
Causes of worn-down teeth
There are generally four types of tooth erosion:
- Friction. This erosion happens when you bite your teeth together or grind your teeth; this can happen during the day or more commonly while you sleep.
- Wear and tear. This can be caused by abuse such as opening beer bottles with your teeth or by excessive brushing and cleaning.
- Tooth stress. Stresses on the teeth can cause them to flex slightly, this flexing can lead to the weakening of the areas which are more prone to erosion.
- Chemical attack. This can either be from outside the body, e.g. acids in your diet or medications, or inside the body, e.g. acid reflux.
Tooth erosion due to friction or teeth grinding (bruxism)
The medical name for teeth grinding is bruxism. Bruxism can happen for a variety of reasons; stress can be a cause as well as malocclusion. If your teeth don’t quite meet together properly, the muscles in your head, jaw and neck can overcompensate. As these muscles try to put your jaw back into its natural position they can wear down points of your teeth which are in the way. A dentist can typically evaluate the way your teeth meet (occlusion) and gently adjust your teeth (equilibrate) to ensure your muscles are not overworked and that your teeth don’t wear down in unsightly or unnecessary places.
How to stop grinding teeth
The principle behind stopping teeth grinding is to help the muscles of your jaw to relax as anything you can do to relax these muscles is likely to reduce tooth grinding. Some people find placing the tip of their tongue between their teeth useful during the day if they find themselves grinding, this can train your muscles to relax.
If you grind your teeth at night, this can be more difficult to control by yourself, you are, after all, asleep!
To stop grinding your teeth at night the simplest remedy is to visit your dentist and discuss this with them. They are likely to prescribe you a splint. A bruxism splint is usually made of a clear thermoplastic (a plastic which responds to heat) which will be custom-made by a dental technician to fit over your lower or upper teeth.
The surface of this splint will be smooth and designed to ensure that your top teeth slide over it. This means your teeth cannot meet, and if adjusted well will ensure that your muscles relax.
After wearing a splint all night, you will notice that when you wake up in the morning your teeth don’t quite meet properly, this is because the muscles have relaxed and allowed your jaw to go back to its natural resting position. Wearing a well-adjusted splint each night should help ensure you wake up without headaches and without having ground your teeth all night. This gives a lot of relaxation to the muscles of your head, neck and shoulders.
Tooth erosion due to wear and tear
If you’re using your teeth for anything other than eating then you could be damaging them. Your teeth are uniquely designed to do the job of biting, chewing and eating… They are not designed for opening beer bottles or biting through hard plastic packaging.
Some tooth erosion can also be caused by poor oral hygiene habits. Excessive scrubbing in the same area every day can cause a tooth to wear, this is classically seen on the cheek side of the tooth close to the gum where the enamel on the tooth is thinner. As this enamel wears away it exposes the softer underlying dentine. Once this becomes exposed, because the enamel is softer, the rate of erosion increases dramatically. This type of erosion can also lead to discolouration on the front surface of your tooth.
Teeth acid erosion
External acid erosion
This is where you have acid erosion on your teeth and the acid comes from an external source. This is most typically through eating a highly acidic diet, or a diet which results in acids being created, such as things like citrus fruit, fizzy drinks and sweets.
It is certainly healthy to eat citrus fruits, but as with most things, everything in moderation. Eating excessive amounts of highly acidic fruit such as grapefruit and oranges can increase your risk of acid erosion. If you think you drink lots of fruit juice or fizzy drinks then drinking it through a straw can help keep the acidic drink away from your teeth.
Internal acid erosion
Acid erosion from within the body is usually typified by tooth wear on the tongue side of your teeth. This can happen with acid reflux from the stomach which wears away the enamel of the tooth. As with any erosion, as the hard enamel outer layer of the tooth is eroded it exposes the softer dentine on the inside of your tooth and this is more prone to staining.
Tooth erosion repair
Fortunately, tooth erosion is relatively simple to repair. The first stage of repairing the erosion is to understand the cause. Dietary advice can be given by your dental hygienist and your dentist can make a night bruxism protection guard if this is appropriate.
Once the cause has been identified and continued erosion stopped then we can think about repairing the past erosion.
In its early stages, this can often be done with dental bonding. This is where your dentist applies a tooth-coloured resin to the area which has been eroded away. This can build your tooth to its former shape (assuming your occlusion allows) as well as cover up any discoloured areas of exposed dentine.
If the erosion has progressed beyond what is practicably able to be repaired with bonding, then dental crowns or veneers can be made to completely cover the surface of the tooth.
If you are concerned about tooth erosion, unsure what’s causing it or would like to have the tooth erosion repaired, please speak to your dentist who will almost certainly be able to help. Regular visits to your dentist will also give them the opportunity to spot the early warning signs of erosion and provide advice before the condition reaches the stage where you notice it happening and it may cost you more to fix.