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Protecting Your Smile: Tooth Abrasion Versus Attrition and How to Handle Both

7 min read
by Dylan Hao |

Just as a rock or a diamond can be broken with the right force, it’s possible to damage your teeth. For instance, when you have bruxism (jaw clenching and tooth grinding), worn teeth through attrition happens. When outside forces affect the surface of the teeth, damage from abrasion is a result.

 Tooth abrasion and attrition both damage the enamel in different ways. The good news is that you can protect your smile and keep your teeth strong and healthy. We’ll help you create an effective action plan here!

Understanding Tooth Abrasion Versus Attrition

Visualize the enamel the same way that rocks protect the coast of a beach. Over time, outside forces, like waves crashing against the stone or grinding from bruxism, can wear away the enamel. This is called attrition, and it has serious consequences. 

Yet, another way your enamel can become weaker is through abrasion. It’s nearly impossible to avoid this type of damage, as it comes from outside forces, including your everyday activities like eating and brushing your teeth. 

But when you understand these two effects, it’s possible to slow down or prevent the damage from occurring.

Defining  Tooth Attrition and Abrasion

Learning to protect your teeth goes far beyond brushing and flossing, but many people don’t realize that. So, when they go to the dentist and are told about unexpected tooth damage, it comes as a surprise!

But wait! I brush and floss my teeth every day. How can there be a problem?

Well, the cause of your tooth damage depends on what the dentist says is the issue. It could be attrition or abrasion

If it’s attrition, this means that your incisor teeth (the front two and those on either side of them) or your occlusal surfaces (the chewing sides) are damaged. 

Incisors and occlusal surfaces are used to bite, tear, and chew your food. They experience wear and tear over the years, particularly if you have bad habits like eating ice chips or chewing on pen caps. Dental attrition also happens horizontally with teeth grinding and clenching.

On the other hand, abrasion occurs when outside factors damage the surfaces of the teeth. These cause the enamel to thin over time. You may see signs of abrasion as V-shaped nicks starting at the bottom of a tooth and spreading.

Abrasion is dangerous because worn tooth enamel makes your teeth and gums more susceptible to plaque and bacteria. When these microorganisms infect the sensitive pulpy area, it can turn into an infection requiring a tooth extraction to correct it.

Unlike attrition, it’s easy to avoid abrasion by not:

  • Brushing with too much force
  • Eating and drinking items with a lot of acidity
  • Having piercings in your mouth that hit your teeth 

Symptoms of Abrasion and Attrition

Part of taking care of your oral health includes recognizing when things in your mouth aren’t quite right. You may notice excessive bleeding when you floss, sensitivity to eating hot or cold items, or lighter-colored gums.

What do these signs mean?

You could “throw spaghetti at the wall” and try to fix the problem with random solutions. But it’s always better to take a strategic approach.

Here, we’ll delve into the symptoms of abrasion and attrition to help you recognize the warning signs early.

Attrition Symptoms

If you’re a bruxer or your favorite meals are chewy, sticky, or hard, you’re more prone to abrasion. Signs of attrition include increased enamel sensitivity and tooth decay. Your gums may also be tender or sore.

As the enamel loss intensifies and the next layer of dentin is revealed, your teeth will become discolored. They may look flatter or thinner, and any old dental restorations may be damaged or fail. 

Abrasion Symptoms

Abrasion is caused by outside forces that result in an overall loss of tooth structure, like brushing too hard or using an abrasive toothpaste. This will show up as small, V-shaped ridges on the surface of your cheek-facing teeth.

It’s also common to notice increased sensitivity because of the enamel loss. Abrasion is responsible for tooth decay and, if left untreated, will lead to tooth loss.

The good news is that both dental abrasion and attrition don’t have to be permanent. If you catch the signs early enough, there are treatment options for each condition.

Dental Treatments for Abrasion and Attrition Damage

We’re born with all of our teeth already in our mouths, including the hard substance of enamel. It’s already there, as hard as it’s going to get, and it can’t regenerate (be replaced) naturally.

So, when abrasion or attrition damages the internal or external aspects of our teeth, we can’t simply grow new enamel. Instead, we have to protect what’s left and use modern therapies, like restorative dentistry, to prevent further damage.

The most common treatments for damage to your teeth are fillings, officially called dental caries. Fillings cover cavities to prevent the decay from getting further into the tooth and exposing the root and nerves.

For worn front surface enamel that causes tooth sensitivity and discoloration, cosmetic dentistry in the form of composite dental bonding or veneers may help. 

Composite Bonding

Composite bonding is used to repair chips in the teeth, a side effect of severe bruxing. A tooth-colored material similar to putty or caulk is painted over the damage and then filed down until the whole tooth looks natural. The crack is hidden, and the tooth structure becomes stable once again.


Veneers are wafer-thin shells that adhere to the tooth's surface, protecting the dentin and nerves from exposure. To place a veneer, the dentist will shave a tiny bit of enamel off the tooth and then “glue” the shell in its place. 


illustration showing a dental crown

Finally, for more severe damage, your dentist may suggest a dental crown. Crowns require an in-office surgical procedure to grind the damaged tooth down in preparation for placement. This new dental accessory looks like your natural tooth, but it covers the enamel to prevent it from any more wear and tear.

Treating Symptoms of Enamel Damage at Home

If none of these options sound appealing and you’re just now starting to see warning signs of damage, you may be able to treat your attrition or abrasion problem with at-home care. This varies from proper oral hygiene to adding appliances to your daily dental routine. 

What can you do at home to prevent further harm to your teeth? Here are a few easy-to-implement options:

  • Use toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth to reduce the pain and discomfort of brushing. You can find this over-the-counter or ask your dentist for recommendations.
  • Develop and stick to proper oral hygiene habits, such as using a soft-bristled toothbrush, brushing twice or more a day, and flossing daily. Visit your dentist at least twice a year for dental cleanings and exams.

If your problem is attrition from bruxing, you’ll need to get to the root of the issue to stop the behavior. But a quick way to reduce the damage from grinding and clenching is to wear a custom-fit night guard (like those we offer at JS Dental Lab)

They stop your teeth from touching and often reduce the side effects of bruxism within days.

Watch What You Eat and Drink

Changing your diet can also be an effective method for treating enamel damage. Acidic foods and drinks are directly linked to enamel wear, so cutting those items out as much as possible will help. Chewy, sticky, and hard foods will speed up dental attrition, too. 

While working on correcting the damage, stick with softer foods and drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated keeps your saliva flow on point, which washes away the bacteria and debris in your mouth.

Add Vitamins and Minerals to Your Diet

vitamins and minerals for dental health

Although we can’t regenerate our enamel, some vitamins and minerals can help strengthen what you still have and protect the sensitive inner layers of your teeth. 

Try to ensure you have at least the daily recommendation of these essential nutrients in your diet:


You’ve likely heard of calcium for your bones, but it’s also crucial for dental health. 

However, our bodies don’t produce calcium. This is dangerous as we age because we lose this nutrient through sweat, nails, hair, urine, and other daily activities.

When we don’t have enough calcium, the body pulls it from our bones, causing osteoporosis. Add calcium to your diet through supplements, meat, dairy, and calcium-rich veggies and nuts (greens, almonds, sunflower seeds, and Brazil nuts).


This vitamin is found in meat, milk, and whole grains. It helps you absorb calcium and can even rebuild tooth enamel.

Vitamin D

Lack of Vitamin D is linked to a plethora of health conditions, including dental disorders like gum disease, cavities, and tooth decay. Add Vitamin D to your diet with supplements, oily fish, and fortified foods.

Preventing Abrasion and Attrition

You don’t have to get diagnosed with or see visible signs of tooth abrasion and attrition to be concerned. If you start caring for your teeth now, you can prevent these issues for as long as possible.

Brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush using toothpaste with fluoride. Your dentist may recommend medium-bristled for certain conditions, but hard-bristled toothbrushes are typically only used to clean dentures or to occasionally remove stubborn stains. Long-term use will create toothbrush abrasion.

The correct brushing technique is as follows:

  • Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gums.
  • Gently move it back and forth in short circular motions.
  • Cover the outer, inner, and chewing surfaces of every tooth as well as the gum line.
  • Brush for two minutes.

Of course, visit the dentist regularly for general dentistry cleanings and checkups. If you have bruxism, keep up with self-care and stress management techniques to prevent grinding, and wear your night guard consistently.

Also, quit bad habits now, like nail-biting or chewing toothpicks, ice, or other hard objects, and eating and drinking damaging foods and beverages. The sooner you stop, the healthier your teeth will remain!


You’re born with your adult teeth; if you care for them, they’ll stay with you throughout your life. Yet, just because they’re extremely hard doesn’t mean they can’t get hurt. 

Understanding the causes of tooth wear through attrition and abrasion will give you the tools you need to prevent many dental issues.

From there, you can add dental accessories, like a night guard from JS Dental Lab, to complement your oral health regimen and keep your mouth safe from grinding and clenching harm!

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