Enamel erosion: Symptoms, causes & treatment

Last Updated September 2022

Protecting your teeth and tooth enamel is vital for good oral hygiene. There are multiple causes of erosion to the enamel, including sugary food and a poor cleaning routine. If any dental issues are left untreated, it can lead to major problems. So, spotting early enamel erosion stages can help you tackle it before it gets worse.

Here, you can find out more about enamel erosion, its symptoms, causes and some available treatment options.

On this page:

  • What is tooth enamel?
  • What causes enamel erosion?
  • Enamel erosion symptoms
  • How to help prevent tooth enamel erosion
  • Tooth enamel repair treatments

What is tooth enamel?

Tooth enamel is the white-coloured outer layer of the tooth. As the toughest tissue in the body, it protects the teeth from infections and bacteria. It also insulates the more vulnerable parts of the teeth from chemicals and hot or cold temperatures.

Enamel helps protect your teeth from daily use, such as chewing, biting, crunching, and grinding. The enamel, however, is not indestructible. It can erode over time, as well as chip or crack. Once this has happened, it cannot be repaired naturally by the body. Because of this, it’s important to take steps to protect the enamel. Identifying symptoms of enamel erosion early, so the proper treatment can be sought when needed, is also essential.

What causes enamel erosion?

Several factors can potentially cause enamel erosion, including:

  • Teeth grinding (Bruxism) – when you grind your teeth back and forth, it can wear down the enamel, If this is done when awake, it could be due to stress and anxiety and finding ways to relax may help. If your grinding occurs at night, it could be a good idea to ask your dentist about a mouth guard.
  • Diet – soft drinks, fruit drinks, and foods that are high in sugar and starches can all result in bacteria in the mouth creating acid, which can erode away at the enamel.
  • Intrinsic erosion – heartburn, acid reflux disease, and some gastrointestinal issues can cause stomach acid to enter the mouth, leading to enamel erosion.
  • Low saliva flow– saliva plays an integral part in washing away bacteria and leftover food in your mouth and bringing acids to an acceptable level. Because of this, people with a dry mouth or low saliva production may experience enamel erosion.

Medical disorders – some conditions, such as enamel hypoplasia, can cause the enamel to not form properly or form incorrectly. There are many reasons why this might happen, including diseases, prenatal issues, and environmental conditions. If you feel any of the conditions above apply to you, speak to your dentist for treatment advice and support.

Enamel erosion symptoms

Enamel erosion has many symptoms, some of which appear at different stages:

  • Early-stage : One of the earliest and first signs of enamel erosion is mild sensitivity. Foods high in sugar, as well as both hot or cold temperatures, can cause slight twinge or discomfort.
  • Moderate-stage : Enamel erosion can progress if not tackled in the early stage. Discolouration can occur when the enamel has eroded to reveal the dentin. It’s this that gives teeth a yellow hue. Chips and cracks can also start to appear as edges become jagged.
  • Advanced-stage: Severe sensitivity to foods and temperatures can happen in the later stages of enamel erosion, when a sudden shock of pain can occur when you eat. Indentations can also start to appear on the surface at this stage.

How to help prevent tooth enamel erosion

As there’s no way to regrow tooth enamel, you should look at preventing enamel erosion as much as possible. Even if you’re already experiencing some symptoms of enamel erosion, it’s not too late to prevent it from developing into the advanced stage.

Here are some ways to help protect your teeth from enamel erosion:

  • Adjust your diet – Reducing acidic foods from your diet can help. You can also take some simple steps to limit the impact of certain foods and drinks on enamel. This might include drinking acidic drinks through a straw, rinsing the mouth out after eating/drinking acidic items, or following a meal with milk or cheese to help combat acids in the mouth.
  • Keep hydrated – having a dry mouth can cause bacteria to remain after eating. Drinking plenty of water consistently throughout the day can help alleviate issues with a dry mouth and help wash away acid-producing bacteria on the teeth.
  • Chew sugar-free gum – this can be a great way to boost saliva in the mouth, although it’s essential to choose a sugar-free gum to limit any potential erosion from sugar.
  • Use enamel-protecting toothpaste and mouthwashes – fluoride in toothpaste and mouthwash can help strengthen and protect the teeth. LISTERINE® Advanced Nightly Reset mouthwash can help remineralise enamel for 6X stronger teeth than brushing alone*.
  • Use a soft toothbrush – while some people might think hard toothbrush bristles offer a more effective clean, the truth is they can actually wear down the tooth. A soft-bristled brush can help reduce the impact of brushing too hard on your teeth’s enamel.
  • Avoid brushing straight after eating or drinking anything acidic – acidic food and drink items can soften the teeth. This, paired with an abrasive toothbrush, can, in effect, help to wear the tooth down quicker. Instead, wait 15-20 minutes after a meal to give the saliva time to wash away the acid.

* in a lab study

Tooth enamel repair treatments

As enamel has no living cells, it cannot repair or grow back once it has been eroded. However, there are specific dental treatments that may help, including:

  • Tooth bonding – this involves coloured resin being applied to the tooth to help rectify discolouration caused by enamel erosion.
  • Veneers and crowns – these may be added to teeth in more severe cases of erosion to protect the teeth from further decay and damage.

If you’re concerned about enamel erosion, consult your dentist.