The visible part of the tooth, known as a crown, is coated with a thin, translucent but tough shell called enamel. This shell does not provide the tooth color, but it can be stained from coffee, tea, soda, tobacco products, red wine and fruit juices. These stains, however, can be easily removed during routine, twice-yearly dental cleanings. A bigger threat to the protective shell is erosion, which can have many causes. When erosion happens, tooth enamel repair must be performed.
The purpose of this hard outer layer is to protect the teeth from daily wear caused by chewing, biting or grinding. It also provides insulation for the teeth from extreme hot or cold temperatures as well as from harmful chemicals. Though this protector is tough, it can still become permanently damaged by cracking and chipping. It cannot heal itself since it has no living cells.
Erosion of the tooth’s surface can be caused by diet, medicine, illnesses and other medical conditions, genetics and environmental factors. Drinking too many sugary, carbonated drinks allows the high level of acids in these drinks to begin the erosion process. Drinking fruit juices and eating a diet high in sugary and starchy foods also has the same effect. Some medications, such as aspirin, can lead to erosion. Medical conditions, such as Acid Reflux Disease, other gastrointestinal conditions, bulimia and even dry mouth can harm the surface of the teeth. Some genetic birth defects also lend themselves to increased erosion.
The environmental factors that can cause damage to the teeth include attrition, or the friction between teeth as they grind or clamp together, as well as abrasion, which is caused by brushing the teeth too hard, improperly flossing, biting on hard surfaces such as pens and glass bottles, and using tobacco products. Abfractions, which are fractures on the teeth as a result of stress, and corrosion, which is caused by the acidic makeup of certain products, also can contribute to overall erosion.
Treatment of erosion actually begins with prevention. To prevent further damage to the shell, an oral hygiene routine that includes brushing after every meal and flossing daily must be adopted. Following a schedule of twice-yearly visits for dental cleanups is vital. A diet that avoids foods and drinks with high acidic contents can also help with prevention. Even chewing sugar-free gum between meals and monitoring the content of snacks as well as making sure to rinse the mouth after eating can all be part of a prevention plan.
When actual restoration is needed, there are a few options available for tooth enamel repair. To treat erosion that has been caught early, a dentist might choose to use some bonding to protect the crowns and improve the cosmetic appearance of the patient. If the damage to the tooth’s surface is more extensive, however, a dentist can use a crown to cover the tooth and stop further decay. Sometimes, the dentist also has to put in a filling or even perform a root canal, if the problem has become too invasive.