Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

What wears down tooth enamel, and how can you prevent it?

What Starts Inside the Body Can Erode the Outside of Teeth

If you have ever been sick or eaten foods that just "don't agree with you," it's likely that your sense of taste registered a difference. Often a person's body is balanced by chemical reactions and acids, proteins, fats, and a whole host of nutrients and chemicals coming in and going out. When the balance is off or foods aren't breaking down properly, conditions such as acid reflux cause some regurgitation of acids and enzymes that can hurt tooth enamel.

In severe cases, those with eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia force food from the inside out by vomiting, and the stomach acids repeatedly come in contact with teeth. Alcoholics and binge drinkers can have the same wear on their teeth as the body rids itself of too much alcohol. Not only do teeth become thin and almost transparent in these extremes, but the body also loses needed vitamins and minerals, depriving teeth of some needed nutrients, too.

Other physical conditions such as celiac disease, cancer and even pregnancy show their presence on teeth, and individuals are advised to combine medical care with regular preventative dental care and maintenance. Teeth grinding is a much more common problem that often involves an imbalance on the inside of the jaw or temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This grinding can significantly break down enamel and even lead to cracked and broken teeth. All of the conditions mentioned would likely benefit from medical and/or psychological care, but in some cases medications that help the body also can hurt tooth enamel.

Many medications, both over-the-counter and prescribed, cause dry mouth. Saliva, though a component in forming bacteria in connection with food and drinks, is also necessary for keeping the mouth clean. Keeping a wash of saliva around the teeth keeps decay from forming as rapidly and provides needed moisture for gum tissue. Blood pressure pills, decongestants, painkillers, muscle relaxants, antihistamines, antidepressants and others suck the saliva out of your mouth. Syrupy medicines also harm teeth by coating them with sticky sugar. Rinsing after taking cough, cold or allergy syrups, or having children rinse after taking them, will help keep residue from building up and attacking enamel [source: ADA].

Sometimes what happens to the teeth can be an indicator of physical or psychological problems. Keeping the mouth clean, moist and clear of acids as soon as possible will help prevent enamel breakdown. Using fluoride tooth products and fluorinated water also is proven to strengthen the enamel itself. Topical and ingested fluoride treatments are especially effective when used early on children's teeth [source: ADA]. Scientists continue to work on remineralizing the crystals in enamel and on growing actual tooth enamel proteins, but in the meantime, we can probably avoid some caustic dietary choices and be gentler with our nature-made crowns.