One of the most common dental problems that occur with age is tooth wear. Think of your teeth like the soles of your shoes. They start out at a certain height and then with use, they begin to wear down. Depending on how you walk, your shoes might wear down on one side more than the other. Well, the same scenario occurs with your teeth. Only it’s not walking that causes tooth wear, it can be a number of factors. Wear can also lead to a number of dental problems and require treatment to fix them.

closeup of a man covering up his smile, embarrassed

What is Tooth Wear?

Tooth wear is when you lose a portion of your tooth’s surface. There is a certain level of wear and tear that is considered normal with age. However, certain factors can cause tooth wear that occurs beyond the normal scope and can lead to serious dental problems and pain if the wear leads to nerve exposure.

Causes of Worn Teeth

There are three different categories of tooth wear. They include attrition, abrasion, and erosion.

Attrition

Attrition is tooth wear caused by other teeth. When you clench or grind your teeth (bruxism) your teeth will begin to wear down. Imagine grinding two sticks against each other. With enough friction, the sticks will begin to wear down. The same thing occurs when you clench or grind your teeth. With attrition, the back teeth will become flatter and the front teeth will become shorter. Severe attrition can even affect your facial appearance due to the loss of tooth structure. It can also cause tooth sensitivity to sweets and hot or cold temperatures.

So what causes clenching and grinding? A number of factors. The most common causes of bruxism are stress, anxiety, or abnormal jaw positioning. An abnormal jaw position is a result of malocclusion and is commonly associated with TMJ disorders. A TMJ disorder occurs when there is an imbalance between the jaw joints, muscles, and/or nerves. It often causes jaw pain, neck pain, frequent headaches and migraines, and bruxism.

One of the best ways to prevent attrition tooth wear is with bruxism and TMJ treatment.

Abrasion

Abrasion is another type of tooth wear that can occur. It’s usually caused by friction from brushing too hard or from brushing in a horizontal motion. Abrasion can also occur from using too hard of a toothbrush. Most tooth abrasion will show evidence on the back teeth’s outer surfaces. People often experience a V shape or wedge indentation of teeth in the gum margin.

Erosion

Erosion is the last and most common type of tooth wear that can occur. When teeth come into contact with acid, the acid can dissolve the enamel and dentin. The two main sources of acid are foods and drinks and from digestion. Drinks such as soda, juices, carbonated drinks, and sports drinks can all erode the enamel. Citrus fruits can also erode enamel.

During digestion, stomach acid helps dissolve food but if it gets regurgitated, it can come into contact with the teeth and cause erosion. Vomiting or GERD can each cause stomach acid to regurgitate into the mouth.

Avoiding certain foods and drinks and seeking treatment for bulimia or GERD can help prevent tooth erosion and tooth wear.

Dental Problems Associated with Tooth Wear

People with worn teeth may experience the following problems:

  • Cracked or chipped teeth
  • Jaw, neck, and back pain
  • Frequent headaches
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Receding gums
  • Tooth decay
  • Yellow teeth
  • Difficulty chewing and biting

Tooth Wear Prevention

Preventing tooth wear is easy if you’re aware of the factors in your life that can cause tooth wear. For instance, one of the easiest ways to prevent tooth wear is avoiding drinks high in acid. Swapping soft drinks, sports drinks, and carbonated drinks for still water can prevent erosion. You can also prevent erosion by not brushing your teeth too hard and not chewing on ice or other hard objects. Lastly, you can prevent tooth wear by treating bruxism and TMJ disorders.

Worn Teeth Treatment in St. Louis

Once your teeth become worn, you will need to repair the missing tooth structure and protect the enamel. But first, we must treat the problem causing tooth wear to begin with. For instance, if we find that your jaw has an imbalance, Dr. Hill will complete a comprehensive exam including using advanced dental technology and neuromuscular techniques to determine if you have a TMJ disorder. Then, he will provide you with an oral splint to stabilize your bite to help it relax in its most optimal position. This will prevent you from clenching and grinding your teeth. You may also require orthodontic treatment if you have a misaligned bite.

Next, we will use dental crowns and/or porcelain veneers to rebuild the missing tooth structure and eroded enamel. 

Treatment for worn teeth will relieve painful symptoms and help restore your smile back to full health and beauty. If you suffer from worn teeth, it might be a sign that you have a TMJ disorder. Contact our St. Louis TMJ dentist at (314) 678-7876 to get treatment for worn teeth today.