Before you slurp down your next soda, consider this: Soda is public enemy number one when it comes to dental enamel erosion, a common and often painful condition.
Enamel loss often starts as a simple annoyance and grows into a serious dental problem. Tooth enamel is a precious substance that gets worn down by the foods and drinks we consume — including but not limited to — soda and other sugary beverages.
If you want to protect your teeth and look out for your long-term dental health, it’s important you learn:
What causes tooth erosion?
The connection between teeth and acid erosion
Whether tooth enamel can be restored
How to prevent tooth erosion
A lot of patients in our practice want to know the best way to protect their teeth from this condition. It’s smart to teach these habits to your children as well, since up to 37 percent of U.S. kids 11-13 suffer from enamel erosion.
Before we start to explore tooth erosion, you may first be wondering what tooth enamel is and why it’s important. Tooth enamel is a dense mineral that surrounds the crown of every tooth. Think of this enamel as the moat and your tooth as the castle. Just as a moat protects the castle from unwanted invaders, tooth enamel protects the tooth from foreign substances that can hurt it, such as sugar and acid.
Tooth enamel has a number of distinctive features:
It’s the hardest substance in the body
It measures just a couple millimeters at its thickest
It can be yellow, grayish, white or bluish
Since enamel is a mineral, it does not grow back. When it has been damaged, such as a crack or a chip, that loss becomes permanent. As hard as tooth enamel is, it can sustain a lot of damage, and erosion ranks as the most common type of tooth enamel damage.
What Causes Enamel Loss?
Acid ranks as the main cause of tooth enamel loss. This substance eats away at tooth enamel, eroding it over time. This leaves the tooth vulnerable and without its main source of protection.
The mouth produces acid in a number of ways. The most common method comes from the food we eat. But that’s not all — other contributors to acid production in the mouth include:
GI tract issues
Taking acidic medicines such as aspirin or antihistamines
Bruxism, or grinding of the teeth
What Causes Tooth Erosion: Other Factors
Dentists have even found environmental factors also can heighten acid production in the mouth. If your mouth produces a lot of friction, you have a lot of stress, or your teeth simply have a lot of wear on them, your acid production may soar.
The way you brush your teeth can also contribute to enamel loss. When you brush too hard or too much, you wear away the enamel, causing your teeth to become sensitive.
Not all enamel loss is preventable. In addition to genetic conditions, weak enamel may also be caused in utero. Some babies do not form strong teeth, either because of the mother’s nutritional habits during pregnancy or for other reasons. No matter how you change your diet or address other causes of tooth erosion, this one can’t be undone.
Tooth enamel erosion has also been linked to celiac disease, a condition in which the gut can’t tolerate gluten. The exact connection between tooth erosion and celiac remains murky. Researchers have theorized it may have to do with the malabsorption issues in the small intestine, which could prevent teeth from getting the nutrients needed for proper development and lead to erosion.
Foods and Drinks That Contribute to Teeth Acid Erosion
Foods and drinks with high acid content are the leading cause of dental enamel erosion. The irony, of course, is that this type of enamel erosion can be prevented with tweaks to your diet.These foods and drinks produce the most acid and thus do the most damage to your tooth enamel:
Soda: The sugar in this sweet drink and the bacteria in your mouth combine to form the acid that attacks your teeth every time you take a swallow. Don’t be fooled by diet sodas — they are just as damaging, causing enamel damage that can even be worse than that caused by drug abuse, according to one study. Another study found that soda is 10 times worse for your tooth’s enamel than fruit juice.
Fruit juice: Though not as potent as soda, this drink is high in sugar and sparks high acid production in your mouth.
Flavored water: Surprise: You may think water is a safe choice, but if you sip on flavored waters, they often have citric acid and other additives that can produce acid in your mouth, even if they do not contain sugar.
Sugary snacks: Snacks with lots of sugar in them, especially chewy ones that stick to your teeth, will damage the enamel. Beware of the many forms of sugar when choosing your snacks — fructose, honey, glucose, corn syrup and others all refer to sugar and should be avoided.
Starchy snacks: Carbohydrate-heavy foods such as potato chips, white bread and crackers can linger in the mouth and produce acid.
Citrus fruits: While citrus fruits make great snacks and are part of a healthy diet, they are very acidic and can contribute to tooth enamel erosion if they stay in the mouth too long — for example, if you’re sucking on a lemon.
How to Prevent Tooth Erosion
One question many patients ask us is how they can prevent tooth erosion in the future even after damage has been done. We suggest using these tips to limit acid production in the mouth and help protect your precious teeth.
Eliminate Sugary Drinks
Yes, this one should be obvious, but it bears repeating: Soda and fruit juices are poisonous to your teeth. If you can replace even one or two of these drinks each day with water, you’ll be doing a great service to your teeth.
Don’t Swish Your Drinks
When you swirl liquid around in your mouth, especially acidic liquid such as soda or orange juice, you’re exposing even more of your mouth to the acid that causes tooth enamel breakdown. Avoid swishing your drinks. Even better: Use a straw so the liquid touches as few teeth as possible before being swallowed.
Get Treatment for Outstanding Medical Conditions
Stomach acid corrodes the teeth quickly. When you suffer from a digestive disorder, such as acid reflux, or an eating disorder, such as bulimia, this stomach acid frequently burns up the esophagus and into your mouth, where it comes in contact with your teeth. If you have an outstanding medical condition that is impacting your dental health, get the assistance you need to help your entire body heal.
Cut Back on Snacks
Frequent snacking throughout the day can lead to greater acid production. If you’re a grazer who prefers snacks to meals or you grab food when you’re bored, try to eliminate one or two of your daily snacks to cut back on acid production in the mouth.
Rinse Your Mouth After Eating
We explain to our patients that brushing your teeth too soon after eating acidic food can actually make the damage worse, because you’re spreading the acid around your mouth. Instead, gently wash out your mouth with water or mouthwash after eating. Then, an hour after you’ve finished eating, take out your toothbrush.
Chew Sugarless Gum
Sugar-free gum can help clear away acid remaining in your mouth after a meal. Choose a gum with xylitol, which has been shown to stop the growth of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth.
Increase Your Dairy Intake
You build strong teeth with calcium, and dairy products brim with it. Plus, dairy products are sticky and form a film over your teeth that lingers after you eat them, helping to protect enamel against acid.
You have probably heard about the health benefits of green and black tea, which are high in antioxidants. But did you know tea can also help prevent tooth erosion? This all-natural beverage has a high PH level relative to most other drinks, and it can neutralize acid in your mouth produced by other food and drinks.
Use Toothpaste and Mouthwash With Fluoride
Fluoride is like a booster shot for your teeth. It helps to strengthen enamel, offering further protection against acid or anything else that can wear away that protective coating. Choose toothpaste and mouthwash that list fluoride among the ingredients, and make sure your kids do the same. It’s never too early to start building those healthy, tooth-protecting habits.
Get Regular Dental Checkups
The best defense against tooth erosion is a good offense, and that means being proactive with your dental hygiene. Schedule regular dental checkups and biannual cleanings to keep your teeth as healthy as possible. You can also use those appointments to consult with your dentist about other ways to protect your tooth enamel and strategize your tooth erosion treatment.
At Dean Cosmetic Dentistry we can take care of your entire family and help you in the fight against dental enamel erosion. Contact us today to schedule a checkup at our practice 865-539-1119 www.deancosmeticdentistry.com New Patients Welcome