Why Are My Teeth Wearing Down?
Tooth wear can be a serious issue that all people will eventually experience. It is the slow erosion of the tooth surface caused by everyday usage, not the quick and significant damage caused by tooth decay or trauma. Typically categorized as pathologic or physiologic, tooth wear can have many causes. Regardless of what causes tooth wear, worn down teeth are accompanied by sometimes painful symptoms that can progress to serious dental issues if not addressed.
Physiological tooth wear is the normal wear and tear that occurs naturally as people age. Pathological tooth wear is defined by damage beyond what occurs in physiological tooth wear, generally from outside sources and behaviors such as a highly acidic diet and grinding the teeth, also known as bruxism.
Bruxism is the unconscious grinding of teeth and clenching of the jaw. While many people suffering from bruxism experience it during waking hours, it is far more common during sleep. Bruxism is caused by stress, anxiety, or bad habits. Wearing a nightguard, similar to a sports mouthguard, while sleeping can help to mitigate the damage done by grinding one’s teeth.
Categories of Tooth Wear
Tooth wear is generally sorted into one of three categories: attrition, abrasion, and erosion.
Attrition is the wear resulting from teeth grinding on other teeth during biting and chewing or from bruxism. The chewing and biting surfaces of the teeth are affected, causing the back teeth to flatten and the front teeth to become shorter. In more serious cases attrition to the front teeth can affect your appearance and can sometimes cause sensitivity to sweet and hot or cold foods.
Abrasion happens when the surface of the teeth is affected by friction. When the teeth are brushed too forcefully, wear can occur. It is often caused by brushing too aggressively or with too hard of a toothbrush. It is most noticeable on the outer surfaces of the back teeth and can cause gaps to form at the gum line.
Erosion occurs when the tooth surface is worn away by acid, dissolving the enamel and dentin. Tooth erosion is often preventable by adjusting one’s diet or taking acid reducing medicine. Dietary acid comes from highly acidic food and drinks and will dissolve the calcium in the tooth. Gastric acid is produced in the stomach and can affect teeth during reflux events or vomiting. Stomach acid is quite powerful as its function is to break down food and can have a significant effect on the teeth.
Repairing Tooth Wear
When a tooth has been worn down, the enamel has been compromised and the inside of the tooth, the pulp, is at higher risk of damage. The pulp inside the tooth is far more susceptible to damage from tooth wear or bacterial infection. When significant wear has occurred, a dentist will be able to repair the damage by bonding dental material or applying crowns or veneers.
With dental bonding, synthetic resin is applied to affected areas to cover the damage. Veneers and crowns are used when the damage is severe enough to require a cap on top of the affected tooth or teeth.