As life spans have increased over the last century so has the importance of maintaining good oral health. Teeth are such a critical component in good nutrition and disease protection, it’s important we do all we can to preserve them for a lifetime.
Through advances in dentistry and oral hygiene, two of teeth’s greatest enemies, dental caries (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease, are not only quite treatable but even preventable. The fact remains, though, that like the rest of our body, our teeth are still subject to aging. The irreplaceable outer layer known as enamel is especially susceptible to wear over time.
The normal wearing down of teeth occurs because of occlusal (bite) activity. As our upper and lower teeth interact with each other through constant biting and chewing activities, some of the enamel surface naturally wears away as we age. Our biggest concern shouldn’t be the wear itself but the rate of wear — whether it’s exceeded the normal range.
Habits that increase the frequency and rate of biting forces are the most common reason for excessive enamel erosion. Such habits include excessive tooth-to-tooth contact as when we clench or grind our teeth and tooth-to-foreign object, the chronic habit of holding hard objects (nails, pencils, pins, etc.) tightly between the teeth. Many of these habits are a response to psychological stress that can even carry over into our sleep.
The key is to minimize these effects on the normal process of wear, and to protect teeth for as long as possible. How to accomplish that goal depends on your individual circumstance: treatments could include such things as orthodontics to correct bite problems that contribute to abnormal wear, considering restoring worn teeth with new crowns or fillings, or reducing grinding or clenching with nocturnal mouth guards or some form of stress-relief therapy.
In cases where abnormal wear has passed the point where it doesn’t make sense to repair your natural teeth, all is not lost — restorations such as dental implants can help restore lost function and inhibit further erosion. Advances over the last thirty years in restoration techniques can, in effect, extend a new lease on life for your teeth. What’s more, we can also restore form — to bring back that smile from your younger years.
If you would like more information on tooth erosion and aging, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How and Why Teeth Wear.”