Occlusal Surface, Wear, Protecting Your Teeth

What is the Occusal Surface?

The surfaces and edges of your teeth go by different names. As the National Examining Board for Dental Nurses points out, there are nine different tooth surfaces, two of which are essential to chewing: the incisal surface and the occlusal surface. The incisal surface is the biting edge on the canines and incisors, near the front of your mouth, while the occlusal is the biting edge, or the top of, your molars and premolars.

Given that the occlusal surfaces play a big role in your everyday life, you're more likely to see wear and tear on them. Understanding how wear develops on the surface and what you can do to treat it will help you keep your teeth in great shape.

What Causes Wear on the Occlusal Surface?

Wear on the chewing surface of the molars and premolars can develop for a variety of reasons. In some cases, wear and damage are a result of cavities. A paper published in the journal Caries Research suggests that the occlusal surface of the molars is the site most likely to develop cavities, and that those cavities are most likely to develop at a young age, around the time the molars erupt, rather than later in life.

A condition known as bruxism can lead to wear on the molars' and premolars' chewing surfaces. People who have bruxism grind their teeth together or clench their teeth, often in their sleep. The wear and tear on the teeth related to bruxism can lead to pain in the teeth and facial area, cracks or chips in the teeth, and problems with the jaw. While people who grind their teeth might not be aware that they're doing it, a dentist can easily spot signs of the condition and recommend a treatment.

In some cases, wear on the chewing surface can simply be a result of the aging process. Wear on the teeth caused by chewing or physical contact between the teeth is known as attrition. Years of eating, speaking and otherwise using your mouth and teeth can cause wear on the surface. Although you can't avoid getting older, you can talk to your dentist about your options for protecting your teeth as you age.

Treating and Protecting the Occlusal Surface

Your teeth are meant to be used, so it might be impossible to avoid attrition and wear to the chewing surface entirely. But there are ways to protect your teeth to keep them from becoming severely worn or damaged. When placed on the teeth soon after they erupt, sealants protect the surface, keeping food and bacteria from getting stuck on the teeth. They typically last for about 10 years and can be reapplied throughout your life to protect your teeth from decay.

If bruxism is leading to wear on the occlusal surface of your teeth, your dentist may recommend a night guard. A night guard protects your teeth while you sleep, because the barrier stops the surfaces of your top and bottom molars from coming in contact. You may also want to look into relaxation techniques to ease tension and strain in your jaw, and prevent teeth clenching.

If you already have a considerable amount of wear on the chewing surfaces of your molars or premolars, you might need a crown to replace the worn or damaged tooth. Brushing your teeth with a toothpaste that helps strengthen and restore your enamel can help protect your teeth from future wear. Brushing your teeth regularly, at least twice a day, will also protect your molars and other teeth from cavities.

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.

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Common Conditions During ADULTHOOD

As we get older, dental care for adults is crucial. Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of:

Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.