Tooth wear, especially on biting surfaces, is a normal part of aging — we all lose some of our tooth enamel as we grow older. Even primary (“baby”) teeth may show some wear before they’re lost. But there’s also excessive, premature tooth wear caused by disease or abnormal biting habits. This type of wear is cause for concern and action before it leads to tooth loss.
Normal tooth wear occurs because of what teeth naturally do — bite and chew. When teeth come together as we eat they generate a modest amount of force: between 13 and 23 pounds. Our teeth also make brief contacts hundreds to thousands times a day. Again, this produces force, though not to the extent we see with biting and chewing: somewhere between 0.75 and 7.5 pounds. These glancing contacts are actually good for dental health because they provide needed stimulation to the teeth and jaws that help the body maintain healthy bone and tooth attachments.
But parafunctional (outside the normal function) habits like teeth grinding or foreign object chewing can greatly increase the generated force, up to 230 pounds. These may result in noticeable symptoms like fractures or loose teeth, but not always — the damage may not be noticeable until much later in the form of excessive tooth wear.
These parafunctional habits aren’t the only cause for excessive tooth wear; tooth decay can weaken the tooth structure, making it more susceptible to wear. And, some restorative materials used for fillings may also affect the rate of wear.
Because excessive tooth wear may or may not present with immediate symptoms, it’s important to maintain regular dental checkups to monitor the condition of your teeth. Our training and experience helps us identify signs of excessive tooth wear and, depending on the extent of damage, work with you on a treatment plan. You should also keep us informed about oral habits, especially teeth grinding, thumb sucking or foreign object chewing (toys, nails, pencils, etc.).
Your teeth will wear as you grow older. By keeping a close eye on your teeth, we’ll help you keep that wear at a normal rate.
If you would like more information on preventing excessive tooth wear, 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 “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”