Tooth erosion is chemical wear of the teeth where tooth enamel is dissolved by acids. Tooth erosion is caused particularly by acidic drinks and foods as well as by gastric fluid travelling upwards and entering the mouth due to reflux or eating disorders. Causes are often diverse and often associated with lifestyle, such as irregular eating patterns or consumption of acidic drinks. Grinding your teeth also increases the erosion of softened tooth enamel. In terms of treatment, the key is to stop tooth erosion as early as possible. Ask your dentist whether there are signs of erosion in your teeth if this is not mentioned during your appointment.
What Is Tooth Enamel?
Tooth enamel is the hard, outer surface layer of your teeth that serves to protect against tooth decay. In fact, tooth enamel is considered the hardest mineral substance in your body, even stronger than bone. In spite of its strength, everyday acids that develop from certain foods and drinks, particularly those that are sweet or contain starch, can put your enamel at risk. Plaque bacteria produce acids that can weaken and destroy tooth enamel. Acids can attack and soften the tooth surface. And once your enamel is gone, it can be gone for good.
Types of Enamel Damage
Two types of tooth damage—abrasion and erosion—can affect the tooth enamel. Abrasion is caused by something rubbing against the teeth. Brushing your teeth with a hard-bristled toothbrush, poking your teeth with toothpicks, or scraping your teeth when removing retainers or partial dentures are possible causes of tooth enamel abrasion. By contrast, erosion occurs when the tooth enamel is overexposed to dietary acids from certain foods and drinks, or acids in the stomach that are regurgitated. It also can be eroded due to the toxins that are released by the plaque bacteria that are around your gum line.
Stomach acids can cause dental erosion
The stomach contains many strong acids that are used to digest food. Vomiting and reflux can cause these stomach acids to enter your mouth.
Stomach acids are very strong and can cause substantial damage to the teeth. For example, people with bulimia, morning sickness or reflux (which can sometimes occur without you knowing) may experience this problem.
Dietary sources of acid can cause dental erosion
Many things that we eat and drink are acidic. One of the reasons for this is that acidic things taste nice. Common foods and drinks that contain high levels of acid, include:
- soft drinks (sugar-free and sugar-containing)
- energy drinks
- citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges)
- lemon-flavoured drinks or teas
- fruit-flavoured lollies
- most fruit juices
- most cordials
- vitamin waters
- vitamin C tablets
Food acids are often added to processed foods and drinks. If you check the ingredient list of foods and drinks, you can see if food acids have been added. The ingredients are listed in order of their amount in the food, with the most being listed first. The closer any food acids are to the start of the list, the more acid the product will have in it.
In particular, watch out for food acids 330 (citric acid), 331 (sodium citrate), and 338 (phosphoric acid) which are especially bad for teeth. For further information speak to your dental professional.
Saliva is a powerful natural defence against erosion. Saliva can wash acids out of your mouth into the stomach, it can neutralise acid, and it can repair the early stages of tooth softening by repairing tooth mineral. However, it cannot restore the lost tooth surface. A reduced flow of saliva (dry mouth) can increase your risk of dental erosion.
Stay well hydrated, as this improves your saliva. Remember that dehydration can reduce the amount of saliva you make, so drink lots of fluoridated water.
If you have a constant dry mouth, you may be at increased risk of dental erosion. Talk to your dental professional to identify the cause.
Causes of reduced saliva (or dry mouth syndrome) may include:
- medications – some can affect your salivary glands and reduce the amount of saliva that they can make, leading to a dry mouth
- dehydration – working in a dry environment and not rehydrating often enough can lead to a decrease in saliva production. Also, excessive intake of caffeine found in coffee, tea, chocolate and cola drinks can reduce fluid levels in the body and reduce saliva
- some specific diseases or conditions can affect the saliva glands, such as Sjogren’s syndrome.
Symptoms of dental erosion
One sign of dental erosion is the loss of the surface of the tooth, leading to a smooth, shiny appearance. Dental erosion can also make any exposed tooth root (dentine) sensitive to hot, cold or sweet foods and drinks.
When there is advanced dental erosion, the enamel may wear away to reveal the underlying dentine; these areas look like yellow depressions on the tooth surface. Fillings may start to become more prominent if the surrounding tooth surface is dissolving away due to erosion. When the signs of dental erosion are detected, it is very important to determine the cause and modify it.
How to Stop Enamel Erosion?
Tooth enamel loss puts your teeth at increased risk for tooth decay. Some tooth enamel loss occurs naturally with age. But you can help stop harmful tooth enamel loss by following a regular oral care routine of twice-daily tooth-brushing and daily flossing. Your tooth enamel is the first line of defense for your teeth against the tooth decay. Help keep your teeth safe from the enamel danger zone and keep them strong with Crest toothpastes.
Use fluoride toothpaste
- Incorporate a toothpaste into your oral hygiene routine. It’s specifically formulated to clean around the gum line for clinically proven healthier gums, which can help promote a stronger foundation for your smile.
- brushing targets the gum line to neutralize the plaque bacteria that produces toxins to break down enamel. It’s proven to help repair weakened enamel.
- Some toothpastes contain an ingredient that kills acid-causing bacteria to help prevent tooth decay, a re-mineralizing ingredient to boost the quality of your tooth enamel, and binds to tooth enamel, forming a micro-thin shield to protect the teeth.
Use a fluoride mouthwash
By adding mouthwash to your oral care routine that contains fluoride, you protect against cavities in hard-to-reach areas and help neutralize that plaque bacteria in your mouth that can weaken enamel.
Brush and floss regularly
Dentists recommend tooth-brushing at least twice a day, along with daily flossing, to help promote oral health. Try using the brusges which has soft, end-rounded bristles that are tough on plaque but gentle on enamel.
How to Repair Tooth Enamel?
Though enamel can’t be replicated, dentists can offer a bit of assistance in repairing the worn-down mineral. There are two main ways to treat eroded teeth:
- Tooth bonding: Bonding can be used in milder cases of enamel erosion. In this cosmetic procedure, resin that is tinted to match your tooth is applied to the tooth with the damage. Once it hardens, it is “bonded” to your tooth and then trimmed and polished to fit into your mouth correctly. The entire process takes an hour or less, and the bonding usually takes just one appointment.
- Tooth crowns: A crowncan be applied to a tooth in more serious cases of weak enamel. This procedure involves capping the tooth with a new one that will protect the damaged areas. A crown can restore function to a damaged tooth, allowing you to eat and drink without pain. It will also protect your tooth against future decay.
Tips for Protecting Your Teeth
You can reduce tooth erosion from what you eat and drink by following these tips:
- Wait an hour before you brush after eating acidic foods to give your saliva a chance to naturally wash away acids and re-harden your enamel.
- Limit – or avoid – acidic beverages like soft drinks. If you do indulge, use a straw.
- When drinking something like a soft drink, do not swish or hold it in your mouth longer than you need to. Just sip and swallow.
- After acidic meals or beverages, rinse your mouth with water, drink milk or enjoy a snack of cheese right afterward. Dairy and other calcium-rich foods can help neutralize acids.
- Saliva helps keep acids under control. To keep your saliva flowing and protecting your teeth, chew sugarless gum.
- Talk to your dentist. Your dentist can explain the effects of nutritional choices on your teeth, including the various foods and beverages to choose and which ones to avoid. Knowing all you can about the effects of what you eat and drink on your teeth can help keep your smile bright over a lifetime.