When it comes to protecting your teeth, your natural enamel is your first and best line of defense. Enamel is the tough outer layer that keeps your smile healthy and white. But, like the rest of our bodies, enamel experiences wear and tear and can be damaged through our day to day activities. The best route for keeping enamel in good shape is prevention and regular dental care from an early age. But when enamel does wear away, we have plenty of cosmetic approaches that can help.
What Is Tooth Enamel?
Enamel is the thin protective layer on the outside of the tooth. It’s made of minerals including a form of calcium phosphate and is the hardest substance in the human body, even harder than your bones. It’s the part of our pearly whites that we show to the outside world. But it also protects the more delicate tissue underneath, including the softer and more sensitive dentin layer just below. Dentin is naturally yellow, so when patients have yellowing teeth, it’s often because the enamel is wearing away.
How Does My Tooth Enamel Get Damaged?
Your enamel can be eroded by acids, chipped or ground away. Enamel erosion is one of the most common dental problems and is often directly related to what you’re eating and drinking. Enamel erosion happens when acids in your mouth wear away that important protective layer. In many cases, this happens when bacteria in plaque produced by eating sugary foods attacks the enamel. In children, enamel erosion is almost always related to diet, with sugary snacks and drinks as the main culprit. This is why more and more family dentists recommend avoiding juice, chocolate milk and other sugary drinks, especially in sippy cups, and limiting sweet treats to mealtimes.
With adults, the causes of enamel erosion can be more complicated. Diet does play a big role, especially with high acid food and drinks (including diet soft drinks and wine.) But other factors come into play, including conditions like dry mouth and acid reflux, certain medications and genetics. Regular teeth grinding can also lead to enamel erosion, with the molars taking the brunt of the damage.
How Can I Prevent Enamel Erosion?
There are lots of ways to keep enamel healthy and strong. The good news is that most of them are easy to manage. Here are a few of the best ways to keep your enamel in great shape:
- Drink plenty of water. Water washes food particles and acids from the teeth. Staying hydrated also helps with saliva production, which is so important for oral health. Saliva helps replenish important minerals in the teeth that are removed by enamel erosion.
- Limit high-acid, sugary drinks, especially sodas (including diet sodas).
- Citrus fruits and juices are high in acid, so consume in moderation.
- Save your sweet treats for after a meal and brush and rinse teeth after eating.
- Try sugar-free gum to generate saliva after eating.
- Brush with fluoride toothpaste regularly and use a fluoride mouth rinse if recommended by your dentist.
- Talk with your dentist about fluoride supplements if your drinking water doesn’t contain this essential mineral.
- See your dentist regularly for check-ups. This can help catch any enamel erosion issues early and make sure your oral hygiene is on target.
- Talk with your dentist about boosting protection with sealants and fluoride varnish treatments for your molars.
- Talk with your dentist about a custom night guard if teeth grinding is an issue.
What Can I Do to Repair Enamel Erosion?
To keep tooth enamel healthy, prevention is key, especially in children. However, if enamel erosion causes more serious problems, your family dentist can tackle it with a cosmetic approach. There are several options for damage and discoloration caused by enamel erosion, and the best option usually depends on the extent of the damage.
- Dental Bonding: If you have a small irregularity in a single tooth or moderate damage to just a few teeth, bonding may be the way to go. Your dentist applies tooth-colored resin and bonds it directly to the tooth with a special light. This lets him change the color or shape of your teeth and repair cracks or other damage.
- Dental Veneers: Veneers are custom-made shells that cover the front of the teeth. They’re made of porcelain or composite resin and are ideal for worn, chipped, broken or discolored teeth. Unlike bonding, veneers require the removal of some of your tooth’s natural enamel and involve a multi-visit process. Dental veneers are an excellent option when your front teeth have more extensive staining or wear or when you want to change the shape or length of your teeth.
- Crowns: Dental crowns, which cover the whole tooth, are a good option when your teeth are severely worn down by enamel erosion, especially if teeth grinding is in the mix. Your dentist files down your natural tooth and covers it with a crown made of ceramic or metal material for both aesthetic reasons and to protect the underlying tissue.
Preventing and Repairing Enamel Erosion at Greenhill Family Dental Care
Our approach for patients young and old is to keep you healthy with good dental habits and excellent routine care. But we know that past dental history and genetics can sometimes make a cosmetic approach necessary. At Greenhill Family Dental, we’re firm believers in dental second chances. If we can’t stop enamel erosion in its tracks, we can find a solid cosmetic solution that will leave you looking and feeling better and get you on the road to a healthy mouth and a beautiful smile.