What is Tooth Erosion or Abrasion?
Tooth erosion and abrasion are very different but both are very destructive! Tooth erosion or acid erosion, also known as dental erosion, is a type of tooth wear. It is defined as the irreversible loss of tooth structure due to chemical dissolution by acids. This is very different from tooth loss due to dental decay or trauma and is not of bacterial origin. The acid comes from beverages or even from your stomach in the form of ‘heart burn’.
This is erosion. Note the lack of tooth enamel – the white part – on the molar pictured above.
Tooth erosion and abrasion are often seen by your dentist as shown in these photos. In tooth erosion as shown above, the acid causes the tooth surface to soften and then normal chewing and/or clenching and grinding of the teeth will cause the wear of the teeth leaving a fairly smooth surface. Compare this to the rough jagged edges that show up on teeth subjected to heavy wear ,clenching and/or grinding. This irreversible damage from tooth erosion or abrasion can be repaired but the tooth or teeth in question may be forever weakened and more prone to further damage. So, it is best to avoid sipping of beverages with anything other than a normal pH. It usually takes a combination of three things to cause this kind of damage.
- A susceptible tooth – some teeth are genetically softer than others
- A diet that includes acidic foods or beverages
- Clenching and/or grinding of the teeth
Tooth abrasion and tooth erosion are two types of damage that can wear away the tooth’s outer covering, the enamel. Once the enamel is gone, the wear occurs even faster as the inner layer of the tooth or the dentin is much softer than enamel. Note the extensive wear in the photos below caused mostly by tooth abrasion. Dished out or cupped lesions appear when the enamel is gone and the habit continues.
Tooth abrasion is caused by something rubbing or scraping against the teeth. Brushing too hard, clenching and grinding are common causes of tooth abrasion. Toothpicks can cause abrasion if they are used aggressively. Even partial dentures or retainers that you can remove can cause tooth abrasion by rubbing against the tooth as they are inserted and removed or during chewing.
Chemicals such as acids cause tooth erosion. Usually the acids are in citrus fruits and other foods. Stomach acids also can cause erosion if they come up into the throat and mouth. This problem is called acid reflux or heartburn. People with the eating disorder bulimia can get tooth erosion because of repeated vomiting. Swimmers may show signs of tooth erosion from the chlorine and other chemicals in a swimming pool.
Tooth erosion looks different from abrasion. Tooth erosion leaves a smooth, scooped out area on the tooth surface. But these processes can be going on at the same time causing even more damage!
Both tooth abrasion and erosion can make teeth more sensitive to sweet, hot or cold foods and drinks. The problem may be worse if the dentin under the enamel is exposed. Dentin protects the innermost part of the tooth, the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels.
Abrasion and erosion also can affect how your teeth look, how they feel and how long they will last! Our office can examine your teeth to see if you have tooth abrasion or erosion. We can show you how to help prevent tooth abrasion and erosion and what to do to fix your teeth. In the meantime the following tips will be helpful:
- Avoid long contact periods with acidic foods or drinks
- If you have heart burn have this condition treated and avoid eating within three hours of bedtime
- Do not press too hard when brushing your teeth. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush. You can even brush with mouth rinse which is less abrasive than toothpaste.
- Use dental floss and toothpicks properly
- Minimize or eliminate clenching and grinding of the teeth (Our Grand Junction, Colorado office can help with this as well!)
Yours for better dental health,
Restoring Smiles/Restoring Health