What is Dental Abfraction?

Posted on: June 27, 2023 | Blog

Have you noticed that your gums do not quite meet the white parts of your teeth? These small points of separation between your gums and teeth, this may be caused by dental abfraction, or similar conditions, erosion and abrasion. Each of these forces can wear down your teeth, and cause these small, but sometimes painful, lesions. Let’s take a look at each of these forces, the problems they can create, what causes them, and what you can do to prevent them.

What is Dental Abfraction?

Dental abfraction is tooth loss that is not caused by tooth decay, but is instead caused by force. There is some debate about these types of lesions, and how they are different from those caused by abrasion or erosion, which we’ll discuss in more detail later in the post.

Dental abfraction is considered unique since it is caused by force from biting, eating, chewing, and grinding. Though your teeth are designed to handle these forces to some extent, excessive force can put too much stress on your teeth, to one area in particular: the cementoenamel junction, or the CEJ. This is the area where the cementum, which binds teeth roots to the gums, meets the enamel, which covers the visible parts of the teeth.

Lesions from abfraction occur in this area, and affect the enamel as well as the softer tissue underneath, called the dentin. These lesions, though often very small, can expose the softer parts of the teeth and cause sharp pains when you drink or eat foods that are quite hot or cold. This is often called tooth sensitivity, and it can be a painful condition to live with.

Why Does Dental Abfraction Happen?

If your teeth are designed to bite and chew, you might be wondering how or why dental abfraction occurs at all. The causes of lesions from dental abfraction are still debated, and can be difficult to study. It’s thought that dental abfraction is caused from excessive force, like regular teeth-grinding, or biting or chewing abnormally hard substances. However, some people who habitually grind their teeth do not show signs of dental abfraction, while others do. Contrastingly, some who do not grind their teeth still show signs of dental abfraction. However, teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is still considered one cause of dental abfraction.

Dental abfraction may also be caused by an uneven bite. When teeth are arranged in an uneven way, some of the teeth will meet sooner and with more force than others. This will put more stress on some teeth than others. Biting and chewing forces should be evenly distributed across all the teeth, and uneven force distribution can cause damage to some teeth over time.

Damage From Dental Abfraction

For some, dental abfraction isn’t a serious problem. For others, it can cause more serious conditions and damage. One issue that can become problematic with dental abfraction is tooth sensitivity. Since the lesions from dental abfraction cause some enamel and dentin loss, it can expose the softer parts of the tooth, which can then cause pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods.

Another problem associated with dental abfraction is gum line cavities. As the name suggests, these types of cavities form very close to the area where the gums meet the tooth enamel. This is also the area where dental abfraction causes damage. Dental abfraction exposes the dentin in this region, which increases the likelihood of cavities.

Can Dental Abfraction Be Treated?

Since the causes of dental abfraction can be difficult to pinpoint, it can also be difficult to treat dental abfraction. However, there are a few methods to treat dental abfraction if the lesions become uncomfortable or unsightly.

First, your dentist will monitor the lesions to see if they are stable, or they are worsening. If they are worsening, your dentist might recommend a mouthguard to prevent teeth-grinding, which can absorb the force of grinding and stop the lesions from advancing further. These lesions can be filled in a way that is similar to filling a cavity. The arrangement of the teeth can also be corrected with braces, which can stabilize the forces affecting the teeth.

Dental Abfraction vs Erosion and Abrasion

Other conditions, including dental erosion and abrasion, are similar to abfraction, but not the same. Dental erosion and abrasion are also conditions where the tooth is damaged by forces other than decay. Dental abrasion also occurs near the gumline, so it can be difficult to distinguish from dental abfraction. However, dental abrasion is caused by forces that wear down the teeth from scrubbing, not pressing. The most common causes of abrasion are from brushing too hard, using a toothbrush with very hard bristles, or from dental devices, like retainers, that don’t fit properly.

Dental erosion is unique from abfraction and abrasion. Dental erosion is caused from too much acid, which might include acidic liquids like fruit juices or stomach acid from vomiting. If the teeth are frequently exposed to acidic substances, or if the body doesn’t produce enough saliva or get enough water to wash the acids away, the acids will start to wear away tooth enamel. Eventually, if the problem isn’t addressed, acid erosion will start to wear away other parts of the tooth.

Knowing about dental abfraction, erosion, and abrasion can help you understand the forces that might be affecting your teeth. If you think dental abfraction or other issues are causing problems with your teeth, make an appointment with a dentist. Your dentist can diagnose the problem accurately, and provide you with options for treatment.


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