Sensitive teeth or teeth that show signs of erosion will only make your life difficult. You can’t enjoy a cold glass of water on a hot day or a hot cup of coffee on a cold day without reverberating twinges of pain. Weak teeth are also prone to breakage or cavities, as even a normal amount of bacteria can inflict serious damage.
If your teeth are showing signs of weakness or if you’re looking to preventatively fortify your enamel to keep it from eroding, there are a few things you can do to preserve the health of your mouth and extend the longevity of your natural teeth.
What Makes Teeth Weak or Sensitive?
A lot of factors can contribute to weak or sensitive teeth, and not all of them have to do with poor oral hygiene. Whitening treatments containing ingredients like peroxide are a major contributor to tooth sensitivity and weak enamel.
Peroxide whitening treatments work by penetrating the surface of the tooth, through the enamel. They enter the tooth and isolate and remove pigments contributing to a stained or yellowing appearance. Peroxide teeth whitening treatments work the same way that hair bleach works, and are capable of causing just as much damage.
Overuse of whitening treatments can lead to depleted enamel that makes teeth very sensitive. Whitening toothpastes have the mildest effect, at home whitening treatments have a significant effect, and in-office whitening procedures performed by cosmetic dentists have the strongest effect. It may be nice to have whiter teeth, but you should choose your battles wisely. Your enamel won’t win them all.
Another major contributor to tooth weakness is acid erosion. Foods or drinks high in acid will slowly erode enamel over time. Foods high in sugar are consumed by the bacteria living on your teeth, and as a result, they excrete an acidic substance that is easily trapped beneath them. This leads to the rapid development of cavities and significantly weakened enamel.
Stiff bristled toothbrushes and highly abrasive toothpastes can also cause weak teeth. Many people who believe they’re doing an excellent job at keeping their mouth clean are actually destroying their mouths. Antiplaque toothpastes tend to be the most abrasive.
Strong toothpastes are loaded with a gritty abrasive ingredient that’s supposed to help dislodge plaque from teeth, but the grit doesn’t know exactly what it’s removing. As a result, it strips away the enamel surrounding the plaque faster than the plaque itself. Stiff bristled toothbrushes do the same thing. They scrub the enamel right off your teeth with repeated vigorous brushing.
Plaque buildup contributes to weakened teeth because it traps bacteria. Plaque is a hard film that’s formed when the film left on your teeth by bad bacteria, called a matrix, is left unchecked. When you don’t floss and brush to remove this matrix and the bacteria responsible for creating it, the debris within it hardens and forms plaque.
Can Tooth Enamel Grow Back?
Your body can heal and replenish bone, but it cannot heal or replenish tooth enamel. Your teeth emerge from your gums fully coated in enamel that is intended to last throughout your entire life. In order to create more enamel, your body would have to create an entirely new set of teeth. Technology hasn’t quite gotten us there yet.
You cannot create more enamel, but you can strengthen the enamel you currently have. Enamel is receptive to certain minerals, taking them in and using them to plug up weak spots that surround the tooth.
If you’ve ever seen a statement on a package of chewing gum that it’s recommended or recognized by the American Dental Association, it’s because the chewing gum is sweetened with xylitol. Xylitol is an alternative to sugar. Bacteria love to eat sugar, which directly translates to tooth decay. They don’t care about xylitol, which is naturally sweet and has the added benefit of protecting your teeth.
Gum and toothpaste that contain xylitol will form a film over your teeth, much like bacteria. The difference between xylitol film and the bacterial matrix is that bacteria cannot live on the xylitol film. By putting down the safer film first, you’re repelling the bacteria that will attempt to set up shop after you eat.
Xylitol also works to balance the PH level of your mouth, bringing it near a perfect 7. When your PH is well balanced, minerals like calcium and phosphate that are hanging around in your mouth become abundant and active in your saliva. This constant wash of tooth building minerals over your teeth will produce a very slight reparative effect that may help keep cavities at bay.
Fluoride is a natural mineral that occurs in almost everything. It’s in the dirt, it’s in the water, it’s in the air, and it’s in your teeth. Dentists recommend using toothpastes or mouthwashes fortified with fluoride, as it makes it easier for your mouth to repair your teeth.
When fluoride enters your mouth, it bonds with calcium and phosphorous to create microcrystals of a substance called fluorapatite. Fluorapatite hardens in your enamel, filling in gaps where weak enamel exists or cavities may be forming.
Many people choose to avoid fluoride in their dental products because fluoride is everywhere. Its rich presence in soil and groundwater means that almost every plant contains fluoride. It’s also added to tap water, and as a result, winds up in everything you eat and drink that was prepared with tap water.
Although rare, there are instances of illnesses related to the overconsumption of fluoride. They mainly occur in countries where the population relies heavily on unfiltered groundwater. Since there’s no way to know exactly how much fluoride you ingest on a daily basis, as it isn’t listed in the nutrition content of foods, most people avoid sources of added fluoride to minimize the risk of ingesting too much.
3. Natural Remineralizing Ingredients
Your teeth are made of calcium, phosphorous and many other trace minerals. Brushing your teeth with very small particles of these minerals will introduce them to your weakened enamel, especially when paired with a PH balancing ingredient like xylitol. All the ingredients work together to set the perfect stage for tooth remineralization.
Remineralizing toothpastes are a great alternative for people who are looking to avoid toothpastes or mouthwashes with added fluoride. They’ll help to protect and rebuild your teeth while eliminating the risk of overconsumption.
4. Changing Your Diet
Acidic foods and sugary foods are very bad for your enamel. They’ll continue to weaken it, undoing any steps you’ve taken to regain enamel strength. Limit acidic drinks and foods like soda, fruit, fruit juices, foods prepared with vinegar, and tomatoes. It’s not possible or healthy to eliminate all fruits and vegetables from your diet. Instead, try to consume them within your final meal for the day. They won’t stick around too long before they’re effectively brushed away.
Try to incorporate more foods rich in calcium, phosphorous, and vitamins A, C, and K. These vitamins and minerals are necessary for bone and tooth health. Leafy greens, low fat dairy, and wild caught fish are all incredibly healthy. Try switching to a grilled salmon salad for lunch and a low fat, no sugar added yogurt for breakfast a few days a week to make sure you’re getting everything you need to keep your teeth strong.
5. Dental Treatments
If your enamel is significantly eroded to the point where your teeth are cracking or breaking, you can’t fix that on your own. You’ll need to see a dentist. Your dentist will evaluate your mouth and recommend extractions for teeth that have mostly eroded. Crowns or fillings may be able to fix partially eroded teeth, chipped teeth, or teeth with relatively minor cavities.
In some cases, dentists may recommend that the impacted teeth be fitted for veneers, which can last for as long as ten years. Veneers will prevent anything from coming into contact with the surface of the eroded tooth.
Since veneers are highly expensive and more of a cosmetic procedure than a utilitarian procedure, many people prefer to use veneers as a last resort. If you have the money laying around and you’d like a perfect smile, you may choose veneers as your first option.
Using a combination of many methods to strengthen your enamel is most likely to yield the best result. A gentle remineralizing toothpaste with xylitol used with a soft bristled toothbrush twice a day will do a lot over time to fortify and repair your teeth. Making smarter choices about what you eat and drink, as well as when you eat and drink it, will prevent further damage to your teeth while supplying your body with the nutrients it requires to keep them healthy.
As a last resort, you may need to see a dentist. If your teeth are already far gone, you won’t be able to do much at home. If your enamel is so weak that you’re in constant pain, see your dentist first. He or she will advise you of your best course of treatment, and that treatment may involve some of these at-home methods.
Source 1 - peroxide bleach explainer
Source 2 - xylitol in depth
Source 3 - why avoid fluoride?