What is Enamel Erosion?
Many people consume carbonated or sugary drinks and acidic foods every day but have no idea those beverages may be harming their teeth, making them vulnerable to tooth erosion. The acid in the foods we eat and drink can cause tooth enamel to wear away, making your teeth sensitive and discolored.
Tooth erosion is the loss of tooth structure caused by the demineralization of dental enamel, which is the strongest substance in the human body. Enamel is the thin, outer layer of hard tissue that helps maintain the tooth’s structure and shape. When the enamel is weakened and erodes away, it exposes the underlying dentin, causing your teeth to appear yellow.
Tooth erosion may occur when the acids in the foods and beverages you eat and drink, as well as other factors we will discuss later, demineralize and weaken the enamel on your teeth. Typically the calcium contained in saliva will help remineralize (strengthen) your teeth after you consume foods or drinks that contain some acid.
There is a constant demineralization/remineralization cycle occurring throughout your mouth, similar to how your bone constantly remodels itself. However, the presence of a lot of acid in your mouth does not allow for remineralization to happen and tips the scales towards destructive demineralization.
Acid can come from many sources, including the following:
- Drinking carbonated or fruit drinks. All soft drinks (even diet varieties) contain a lot of acid and are capable of dissolving enamel on your teeth. Bacteria thrive on sugar and produce high acid levels that can eat away at enamel.
- Most over the counter mouthwashes have acids added for shelf life stability. Read the labels!
- Eating sour foods or candies. All those sour candies may taste great, but these treats can be acidic to your teeth. Sour and fruity candy, such as Starburst and Skittles, are the worst for your teeth since these candies have a low pH value, which is known to ruin enamel.
- Low saliva volume. Saliva helps prevent decay by neutralizing acids with buffers in your saliva as well as washing away leftover food in your mouth.
- Acid reflux disease. Acid reflux, or GERD, brings stomach acids up to the mouth, where the acids can erode enamel.
- Bulimia or binge drinking. These conditions can cause tooth damage because they frequently expose teeth to stomach acids or acidic beverages.
- Wear and tear. Brushing your teeth too vigorously or grinding your teeth at night can erode enamel.
Signs of Erosion:
Acid wear may lead to serious dental problems. When your tooth enamel erodes, your teeth become more vulnerable to cavities and decay, and you may begin noticing the following symptoms:
- Severe sensitivity or tooth pain when consuming hot, cold, or sugary foods or drinks
- Tooth discoloration
- Rounded teeth
- Transparent teeth
- Visible cracks in teeth
- Cupping, or dents, that show up on the biting or chewing surfaces of the teeth
How To Prevent Erosion:
- Reduce or eliminate altogether your consumption of carbonated drinks. Instead, sip water, milk, or unflavored seltzer, which is slightly acidic but not too bad.
- If you must consume acidic drinks, drink them quickly and be sure to use a straw so that the liquid is pushed to the back of the mouth. Don’t swish them around or hold them in your mouth for a long period of time.
- Instead of snacking on acidic foods throughout the day, we suggest eating these foods just during meal times in order to minimize the amount of time the acid makes contact with your teeth.
- After consuming highly acidic food or drinks, rinse with water to neutralize the acids.
- Chew sugar-free gum to produce more saliva, as this helps your teeth remineralize. If you can find American made XYLITOL GUM, use that! See our blog on Xylitol for more info!
- Brush with a soft toothbrush and be sure your toothpaste contains fluoride. It’s best NOT to brush for 30 minutes after ingesting acidic foods or beverages, waiting until your saliva buffers your mouth to a neutral state. Otherwise, you are actually doing an acid wash on your teeth with the brush.
It’s Important to Catch Erosion Early!
It’s important to know that the majority of dental problems, such as tooth erosion, do not become visible or painful until they are advanced. And, unfortunately, serious oral issues are painful and expensive to treat. Regular cleanings at least twice a year by our team is the best way to hit all the spots you may have missed with brushing and flossing and prevent any issues that may have gone unseen. Cavity prone patients or patients with existing erosions may also benefit from professional fluoride treatments during their regular hygiene visits as well.
Dr. Aishwarya Vats