Aging is a part of living, and it doesn’t just happen to your skin but also your teeth. In fact, tooth wear is one of the more common concerns from patients of Dr. Katrine Farag, owner of Advanced Dentistry of Fort Myers.
“People are practicing more preventive care enabling them to keep their teeth longer. Now those teeth are experiencing wear and tear for many more years.”
She often hears complaints from patients that when they smile they don’t see their teeth the way they used to; the teeth have become shorter. She says there are three factors to consider when talking about tooth wear: erosion, abrasion, and attrition.
A sign of erosion is discoloration. Dr. Farag explains, “The teeth are starting to get more yellow because the layer of enamel is disappearing.” This is typically caused by chemicals such as the acid in sodas or acidic reflux, that eventually wear away the top layer of enamel, exposing the underlying ‘dentin.’ The dentin has a yellowish tint.
Abrasion is most often caused by over-brushing, using a hard toothbrush. This physical action abrades the enamel, and similar to erosion, leads to a yellowish tint on teeth.
“Attrition comes from chewing forces over the years. It begins to wear away at the length of teeth leaving patients with an uneven tooth line and/or short teeth.”
The key to treating tooth wear begins with figuring out the cause. “Eliminating the cause is the first step in treatment, then we can decide how to treat the teeth cosmetically,” says Farag.
Tooth color bonding is often used to brighten smiles in the case of erosion and abrasion. Whitening agents won’t work for these conditions because they target enamel. Once the enamel is gone and the dentin exposed, teeth whiteners don’t have a mineral base to cling to, and will no longer work.
If you are suffering from either erosion or abrasion, besides having yellow tint to your teeth, you may also be experiencing sensitivity.
Crowns and veneers are often used in the case of attrition. When teeth get worn down it affects the bite and could lead to TMJ and joint pain. “Now we have to treat the entire joint instead of just the teeth,” says Dr. Farag.
There are some easy things you can do now to slow the progression of tooth wear. The first one is to keep up on your regular dental visits. Staying ahead of changes in the mouth can be less painful and less expensive in the long run.
Dr. Farag also says, “Check your toothbrush. Get rid of the brushes with the hard bristles. Throw them away and look for brushes with the softest bristles.”
She also advises cutting down on or eliminating acidic drinks and seeking treatment if you think you might have acid reflux. If you just can’t say no to that morning coffee, afternoon soda, or nightly glass of wine wait for at least 20 minutes after consuming before brushing. “That seems to be the magic number for the acid to dissipate and the PH in your mouth to get back to normal making brushing safer for your teeth.”
Tooth wear is a normal part of aging that Dr. Farag says everyone will experience. “The key is to stay on top of it so that when it becomes excessive we can step in before any more damage is done.”