If you were to create a list of the toughest parts of the body, you’d have to place your teeth towards the top. Amazingly resilient when you consider the stress and strain we place on them daily with all of the munching, crunching, cracking, and chewing, your teeth’s resiliency is due primarily to the fact that they are covered with the hardest substance produced by the body, enamel.
A thin, translucent shell, tooth enamel covers the much softer and more sensitive center of your tooth called the dentin. A tooth’s dentin contains thousands of tiny tubules that run straight to its nerve center. When dentin becomes exposed, bacteria can cause inflammation to occur in these tubules, which can lead to tooth sensitivity and decay.
Despite how tough your teeth are, however, a variety of threats can still weaken the health of teeth, leading to injury and disease. Here are the three biggest threats to your teeth’s health, and what you can do to avoid them.
Broken, Chipped, or Fractured Teeth
Biting down on a particularly hard piece of food, such as stale bread, a popcorn kernel, or hard candy, can occasionally result in a chip or fracture of a tooth. A fairly common oral health injury, teeth that feature fillings or have undergone root canals rank as the most likely to sustain this type of injury since the structure of the tooth has already been compromised. However, even fully intact and healthy teeth can sustain this type of injury if you happen to bite down on something hard the wrong way.
While breaking or chipping a tooth is possible when eating, these types of injuries are far more common to occur as the result of an accident or sporting injury. A recent survey of athletes participating in the Pan American World Games found that nearly half of all participants showed signs of having suffered a tooth fracture during the course of training or competing. Not surprisingly, the most common sports to exhibit this type of injury were ones that involved contact, such as boxing, karate, and basketball, but even athletes who participated in non-contact sports like skiing or skating also showed signs of damage.
How to Prevent Injury: If you have fillings placed in your back molars, try making a conscious effort to avoid biting down on hard foods and don’t indulge any habits that could harm your teeth, such as munching on ice, chewing on pens, or using your teeth to open plastic bags or bottles.
If you participant in sports, talk with Dr. McDowell about acquiring a custom made mouth guard. Studies have shown that athletes who use mouth guards have significantly lower risks of suffering an oral health injury when compared to athletes who did not. While a dentist can easily repair a chipped tooth, fractures are a lot more difficult, especially if the crack extends below the gum line. If you suffer a badly fractured tooth, Dr. McDowell may recommend its removal.
Bruxism: Teeth Grinding
Your teeth are designed to grind and chew food, but when a person excessively clenches or grinds his or her teeth, damage to the chewing surface can occur over time. Chronic tooth grinding, a condition known as bruxism, cause micro-fractures to develop in teeth enamel, which makes teeth more vulnerable to decay, and can even wear away the surface of molars until they become even and flat.
In addition to destroying tooth enamel, teeth grinding can cause frequent headaches, jaw and muscle pain, and difficult chewing. Most people who suffer from bruxism don’t even realize they have the condition because they do it unconsciously or during their sleep. In these cases, patients only become aware of their condition when a dentist notices the distinct signs of erosion on the surface of their teeth.
Studies have shown that individuals who deal with high levels of stress or anger may be more likely to deal with bruxism. A 2010 study found that individuals who suffered from bruxism during their sleep were more likely to report problems with work, their home life, or health than those who did not grind their teeth at night.
Dealing with Teeth Grinding: Practicing a number of stress management techniques can help people relax and to reduce the tension that can manifests into bruxism. Breathing exercises, meditation, or even taking brief walks during moments of high stress can all help manage stress. For patients who grind their teeth during sleep, Dr, McDowell can work with them to create a custom mouth guard to wear at night that will help protect the health of their teeth.
Despite the resiliency of your teeth, they can begin to break down and become vulnerable when the levels of acidity in your mouth become too high. Acid can erode enamel, which makes your teeth more susceptible to decay. Foods and drinks high in acidity, and bacteria that produces acids in the mouth can both cause the acidity levels in your mouth to rise. Enamel erosion can also be caused by certain conditions such as acid reflux, bulimia, or alcoholism that cause stomach acid to rise up into the mouth.
Treatment Options: Make sure to thoroughly rinse your mouth with water after eating foods high in acid, or drink a glass of milk to help neutralize the acidity. Brushing and floss regularly will help to reduce the number of acid producing bacteria in your mouth. For more serious conditions like bulimia or alcoholism, you need to consult with a doctor in order to receive treatment options.