It's important to brush your teeth twice per day to prevent tooth decay and remove plaque formation, but did you know you can actually damage your tooth enamel by applying to much pressure when you brush? When you wear away your tooth enamel due to an external force, such as vigorous or aggresive brushing, nail biting, chewing on hard objects or using an abrasive toothpaste, your teeth undergo a process called dental abrasion. Lost tooth enamel may lead to tooth sensitivity and increase your risk of dental decay, so it's best to try to treat your teeth more gently.
Types of Tooth Wear
To take steps to protect your tooth enamel, it helps to understand the differences between abrasion, erosion and attrition. Dental abrasion is the result of external mechanical action on the teeth removing the tooth enamel. Erosion occurs when acids in food or from the stomach dissolve the enamel surface of the teeth. Most often found on the tongue side of the upper teeth. Finally, attrition results from tooth surfaces rubbing together and wearing away the tooth structure, such as through teeth grinding or a misaligned bite.
Causes and Signs of Dental Abrasion
Dental abrasion takes place over a period of time. Brushing your teeth with too much pressure, with a hard-bristled toothbrush or with an abrasive toothpaste can cause this kind of wear. Anything that rubs repeatedly on your tooth enamel eventually breaks it down. This could also include mouth jewelry that may continuously rub against your teeth or a pen that you bite.
Eventually, abrasion causes notches to appear on your teeth, often at the place where they meet the gumline. The exposed area may be darker than the rest of your tooth because the white enamel has worn down, exposing the layer of dentin located underneath.
Tooth sensitivity is another common symptom of abrasion. According to the Cleveland Clinic, teeth can become sensitive when the enamel dissolves and the dentin becomes exposed. Dentin contains tiny channels that are under the enamel surface and lead to the sensitive pulp at the center of the tooth, so you may feel pain when brushing your teeth or perhaps when you eat hot, cold, sour or sweet foods. In these channels called dentin tubules, there is fluid movement when a stimulus is appled to the tooth.
Treatments to Protect Teeth After Abrasion
If left untreated, dental abrasion may lead to cavities and even tooth loss. Dentin isn't as tough or as protective as tooth enamel, so when it's exposed, mouth bacteria and plaque can begin to harm the tooth. If the decay continues, the pulp of the tooth may be compromised, which in severe cases may result in a tooth extraction.
If you have some degree of abrasion, your dentist may recommend treatments to protect the tooth and cover up the exposed dentin. Your dentist can apply a fluoride varnish to strengthen the surface of the teeth, and they can cover the exposed surface with a veneer, according to an article in the Journal of Restorative Dentistry. The material will match your natural tooth color to make it less noticeable.
Unfortunately, dental abrasion isn't reversible. When tooth enamel wears away, it doesn't grow back. You can avoid damaging your tooth enamel by brushing your teeth with a nonabrasive toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Hold the toothbrush at 45-degree angle and brush back and forth using short strokes. Use a toothpaste that's rich in calcium or fluoride to strengthen your enamel, and do your best to stop habits like nail biting or brushing too hard.
Continue to keep your teeth healthy and looking good by seeing your dentist and dental hygienist for regular checkups. They can ensure that your teeth and enamel are as strong as possible.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.