Dental erosion: the surprising culprits eating away at your teeth
We’ve all heard of dental cavities and the damage they can cause. Hopefully most of us have a pretty good idea about how to prevent them. Can the same be said about dental erosion?
If you haven’t heard of dental erosion, perhaps you’ve heard of “acid-wear”, or “tooth-wear”, which erosion can contribute to. Dental erosion is a condition, where strong acids dissolve tooth enamel (the good looking, strong white part of your teeth) and dentine (the tooth tissue found under the enamel). As teeth erode, they may become sensitive and can darken in colour. Tooth edges can become fragile and chipped and, as the condition progresses, teeth may shorten, becoming unsightly and affecting the way your teeth fit together.
Unfortunately, good oral hygiene will not prevent dental erosion. In fact, if teeth are brushed incorrectly or at the wrong time, it could actually increase the wear of your teeth.
So, what is the cause of dental erosion? There is one main culprit, and that is acid. Whether it originates from inside or outside the body, acid is definitely an enemy to our teeth.
Dental erosion has a very distinct appearance. The biting surfaces of the teeth can appear crater-like or hollowed; the outer sides of the teeth can have a scooped appearance; the enamel on the edges of the front teeth can be thin and transparent and the underlying layer of the tooth – the dentine – is often visible.
Medical conditions like bulimia, morning sickness or indigestion, where there is frequent stomach acid in the oral cavity from either vomiting or reflux, can be the cause of acid-wear on teeth. However, for many, it is what we consume that is causing damage.
If foods you enjoy regularly have an appealing zing (think fizzy drinks or sour lollies), then acid is most likely one of the ingredients. Dietary acids are found in acidic foods including pickles, vinegar, confectionary and many popular drinks including soft drinks, juices, colourful cordials, energy and sports drinks, wines and other alcoholic beverages, fruit-flavoured teas…the list goes on. Acid also occurs naturally in certain fruits, especially citrus varieties like grapefruit, mandarin, lime, orange and, of course, lemons.
When it comes to preventing dental erosion, consider saliva your best friend. Saliva contains many properties that support oral and dental health. When saliva levels are low, perhaps due to dehydration caused by illness, exercise or medications, we are at a much greater risk of developing erosion.
There are some things you can do to help prevent damage from dental erosion. Some might seem fairly obvious, but some might surprise you.
1. Become familiar with acidic foods and drinks that cause dental erosion. Look for acids on food labels, eg citric, tartaric, malic, phosphoric, fumaric and lactic acids.
2. Avoid tooth-brushing straight after consuming acidic food or drink. The enamel is softer and will erode more quickly at this time. By waiting at least 30 minutes after consuming acidic food or drinks, your teeth will have time to restore their mineral content.
3. Rinse with, or drink water or plain milk after consuming acidic products.
4. Combine protective foods like dairy (milk and cheese), protein (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, tofu), vegetables and nuts with acidic products.
5. Use a straw to drink juice or soft drink.
6. Chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva and neutralise acidity.
7. Drink water during sports and physical activity – avoid sports drinks as they can be highly acidic.
8. If you have a medical condition that causes dry mouth, talk to your oral health professional about ways to reduce the impact of dental erosion.
Regular visits to your oral health professional are essential to ensure early diagnosis of problems, and to get personalised advice on how to prevent damage from dental erosion. Of course, for overall oral health, brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
Knowledge, and some health and lifestyle changes could be all it takes to help prevent the damage caused by dental erosion.
The Oral Health Advisory Panel (OHAP), is a group of independent healthcare professionals with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of good oral health and its impact on general wellness. The Panel aims to take oral health beyond the dental clinic.
Follow the Oral Health Advisory Panel via twitter @OHAPanel to stay up to date with practical advice on good oral health habits.