As you age, it's completely natural for your tooth enamel to slowly wear down. At the age of 30, for example, a "normal" adult will have lost about a millimeter from their front teeth due to the friction caused by chewing. Unfortunately, an increasing number of older adults are experiencing excessive wear beyond what's considered normal. This can lead to a number of problems, from an unattractive smile to tooth sensitivity.
If you suspect you may be suffering from excessively worn teeth, it's best to address this problem sooner rather than later. Here's a closer look at worn teeth, common causes, how you can prevent wear, and treatment options your dentist may recommend.
Common Causes of Excessive Tooth Wear
When you visit your dentist to discuss your worn teeth, one of the first things he or she will do is work with you to determine the cause of your excessive tooth wear. This way, you can address the cause of the wear to prevent it from becoming any worse. In some patients, tooth wear has a single cause, and in other patients, the wear is brought on by a combination of several of these factors.
Grinding and Clenching
If you grind or clench your teeth when you're feeling stressed or anxious, this can cause the enamel to wear down prematurely. When you grind one tooth against another, the friction can slowly rub away the enamel. Clenching your jaw leads to the formation of micro-cracks in the tooth enamel. The enamel around these cracks then wears away more easily when you chew or brush your teeth.
Similar to how sandpaper wears away at wood, chewing on hard items like fingernails and pen caps can slowly take away the enamel on your teeth. Brushing too hard with an overly stiff toothbrush can have a similar effect. This is one reason dentists generally recommend using a soft toothbrush and a gentle touch when brushing.
Acidic Foods and Beverages
When you consume acidic foods or beverages, the acid weakens your enamel. Then the enamel is more easily worn away when you brush your teeth or chew harder foods. Common acidic foods and beverages include sodas, citrus juices, and tomato sauce. Those with bulimia also experience acid wear due to frequent exposure of their teeth to acidic stomach contents.
Problems Caused By Worn Teeth
Many patients first notice their teeth are showing wear when they look in the mirror. However, excessive tooth wear can cause an array of other issues that you may not immediately realize are associated with the wear.
Your enamel is naturally quite white, but the layer beneath it—the dentin—is yellowish. As your enamel wears away and becomes thinner, the dentin starts showing through, and your teeth develop a more yellowed appearance. This is usually most obvious along the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
Do you experience a piercing pain when you sip something hot or cold? This sensitivity is likely due to the thinness of your worn enamel. The hot and cold items are coming into close contact with the nerve endings in the dentin of your teeth, causing an overreaction.
Headaches and Jaw Aches
When your teeth are badly worn down, they don't always come together properly. This misalignment in your bite can cause strain in your jaw, and this strain can radiate and lead to headaches.
Difficulty Biting and Chewing
The bite misalignment that results from excessive tooth wear may also make it harder to bite into items like apples and carrots. You may also struggle to chew since your teeth no longer fit together properly.
Treatment Options for Worn Teeth
Once your dentist confirms that you are, in fact, suffering from excessive tooth wear, he or she will help you explore ways to address the main causes of this wear. For example, you may be instructed to switch to a softer toothbrush, wear a mouth guard to prevent you from grinding your teeth at night, or stay away from acidic foods.
To correct the already existing wear, your dentist may recommend one of these treatments.
Dental bonding is a procedure in which a tooth-colored composite material will be applied to the edge of your teeth. The composite will cover the worn surfaces, improving the appearance of your teeth and also addressing any bite alignment and sensitivity issues you may be experiencing. Dental bonding is usually the best option for minor to moderate enamel erosion in isolated spots.
If certain teeth are very badly worn on several surfaces, your dentist may recommend covering those teeth with crowns. A crown is typically made from porcelain or composite resin. It covers the entire tooth, helping to stop any chips or cracks from spreading while protecting the tooth from additional enamel damage.
Your dentist may also recommend that you undergo fluoride treatments or use a fluoride rinse to harden your enamel and help prevent subsequent wear.
If you are experiencing increased tooth sensitivity, headaches, and trouble chewing, you may be suffering from excessive tooth wear. Visit a cosmetic dentist today to explore your treatment options.