Quick question: what’s the hardest substance in the human body? Most people guess bones, but the truth is that your tooth enamel takes the prize. At a 5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, tooth enamel is about as hard as steel! That’s why it can be so confusing to see your enamel slowly wearing away. When your pearly whites start turning yellow or brown instead, you may be wondering how this dense substance is disappearing.
Worn-down teeth can happen for several reasons, and they can quickly become a source of sensitivity and discomfort if you aren’t careful. If you suspect premature tooth wear, here are a few things to keep in mind.
What Causes of Worn-Down Teeth?
Worn-down teeth, or “teeth substance loss” (TSL), can happen for several reasons. Depending on the cause, you may lose enamel on the top and/or sides of your teeth.
Tooth grinding is one of the most common causes of TSL. This happens when you grind your teeth against each other. Over time, the chewing surfaces of your teeth begin to wear down.
Teeth grinding can be a side effect of temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD). Other conditions or chronic diseases may increase your risk of grinding.
Sometimes, patients aren’t aware that they’re grinding their teeth. It can happen as an unconscious reaction to stress, for example, or at night while you’re asleep.
Figuring out how to stop grinding teeth can help you prevent future enamel loss.
Dental erosion happens when a substance, often a highly acidic one, wears down your enamel.
This is common with certain foods, drinks, and medications. If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or suffer from bulimia, your stomach acid may also cause erosion. If you have a health condition or take medications that reduce your saliva, you may be at greater risk of enamel erosion.
Often, patients don’t notice their enamel is beginning to erode. Sensitivity and pain are uncommon until the erosion grows severe.
Abrasion happens through friction. When an object slides or rubs against the surface of your tooth over and over, the enamel may begin to wear down.
Dental abrasion is common if you use a toothbrush with firm bristles, brush too hard, or use an abrasive toothpaste. Certain habits like chewing toothpicks and pens or holding hairpins between the teeth can also cause abrasion.
How Do You Spot Worn-Down Teeth?
If your enamel has begun to wear away, it might be hard to spot. In the early stages, you won’t see a difference in your smile at all.
Over time, however, the signs will grow more obvious.
When tooth wear affects the chewing surfaces of your teeth, you might notice that these surfaces look yellow or dull. Depending on how much of your enamel has been stripped away, you might have more sensitivity to hot or cold foods.
If there’s severe enamel loss, your teeth may begin to look shorter and shorter over time. The peaks of your teeth (also called “cusps”) may wear down, making your teeth look flatter.
When tooth wear affects the sides of your teeth, you might notice yellower or darker teeth when you smile. If the cause is abrasion, you may even see indentations in your teeth.
When erosion is the cause of your TSL, you’ll likely see damage all over your teeth, though it will be most obvious on their inner sides. Uniform discoloration is more common in these cases.
In the worst-case scenario, you might notice chipped edges or even fractures. This may happen as your enamel wears down severely, weakening the tooth. It’s also more common if you’re grinding your teeth (and thus putting excess force on them).
Can You Reverse Enamel Loss?
Eroded or damaged tooth enamel does not grow back. Because it isn’t a living tissue, your body will never make more of it on its own.
This is why it’s so crucial to catch TSL as early as possible.
Addressing the common causes above and getting preventative treatment can help you avoid nasty side effects like discomfort, sensitivity, and pain. Keeping your enamel healthy can also protect your teeth against future damage and decay.
Most toothpastes, mouthwashes, and other products that claim to address enamel loss will not regrow your enamel, though studies suggest that better treatments may be on the horizon.
Instead, most products help re-mineralize your teeth. By pushing calcium, phosphates, and fluoride into the tooth, they help the surface harden again, strengthening your existing enamel and lowering your risk of future TSL.
Treatment for Worn-Down Teeth
If you can’t regrow your enamel, what can you do? Don’t stress! There are plenty of ways your dentist can help with TSL.
When you’re dealing with mild enamel loss, your dentist may recommend resin bonding. With this procedure, they’ll apply a tooth-colored material to your teeth.
This protects the tooth and covers any discoloration or wear. Your dentist can also use resin to reshape the tooth if it has lost volume, chipped, or become malformed.
When you’re dealing with moderate to severe enamel loss that affects the front of your teeth, your dentist will likely recommend dental veneers, though implants are also an option. Veneers are hard tooth-colored shells that can cover, lengthen, and protect your teeth.
When your moderate to severe enamel loss has stripped away the chewing surfaces of your teeth, crowns are your best friends. These tooth-colored caps cover the tops of your teeth. They’re great for hiding discoloration and damage, lengthening the teeth, and restoring your smile.
Treat Your Enamel Loss Early
Here’s the bottom line: the best way to treat worn-down teeth is to stop them from getting damaged in the first place! If you’ve noticed signs of TSL, it’s crucial to reach out to a dental expert early. Fast treatment can protect the enamel you have left for a healthier, happier smile.
That’s where we come in! At Justice Dental, our experienced cosmetic dentists are here to help you restore and protect damaged teeth, no matter the issue. Contact us for an appointment at one of our Lexington dental clinics.