Tooth Erosion

 
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From the Academy of General Dentistry:

Tooth ErosionTOOTH EROSION

The good news is that with proper oral hygiene and regular dental care, you have an excellent chance of keeping your natural teeth for a lifetime. 

The bad news is that over a lifetime your teeth will be exposed to many acids in foods and drinks which can wear down the enamel of your teeth-- process called tooth erosion.

Today's diets include many foods and drinks that contain acid and can erode teeth.  Some, such as fruits and fruit juices are healthful; others, such as carbonated soft drinks, are not.

 

 Acid is the leading cause of tooth erosion.

Tooth erosion occurs when acidic chemicals wear away a tooth's outer covering or enamel. 

When exposed to acidic foods and drinks, tooth enamel is temporarily softened and loses mineral content.  Saliva can neutralize acidity and reharden the enamel.  Rehardening occurs slowly, however, and with continual acid exposure, the tooth does not have time to repair.

Over time, tooth erosion leaves the inner tooth structure exposed, weakened, and sensitive.  Brushing soft enamel increases the likelihood of erosion.  Thinning of the enamel often leads to tooth sensitivity and can progress to tooth loss.

Anyone who eats (and that's all of us) can be affected by acid erosion.  Some people are at higher risk than others--including those who enjoy an active lifestyle and healthful diet!

WHO IS AT RISK FOR TOOTH EROSION?

People who drink a lot of carbonated beverages:  Many colas and other soft drinks (even sugar-free varieties) are extremely acidic.  Children and teens are especially at risk.

People who eat a healthful diet: Many healthful foods are acidic.

People who are heavy coffee and herbal tea drinkers:  Coffee and some herbal teas are very acidic.

Active people who consume sports drinks:  Studies have shown the enamel damage caused by sports drinks is 3 to 11 times greater than that caused by cola beverages.

Children with baby teeth:  The enamel of baby teeth is softer and more vulnerable to acid erosion.

People who have dry mouth (xerostomia):  Because saliva plays an important part in neutralizing acids in the mouth, people with dry mouth are more susceptibile to tooth erosion.

People who suffer from chronic acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD):  One study found that 11 out of 20 patients with GERD had tooth erosion.

 

SIGNS OF TOOTH EROSION

The effects of tooth erosion cannot be reversed.  When enamel is gone, it is gone forever.  Severe damage may result in tooth loss.

Early signs:

  • Sensitivity when consuming hot or cold foods and drinks
  • A yellowish appearance as the tooth enamel thins
  • A rounded "sandblasted" look on the surface of the teeth

Later signs:

  • Transparency of the biting edge
  • A darker, more yellow appearance
  • Extereme sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Small dents on the tooth surface

 WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT TOOTH EROSION

It is impossible to completely avoid the effects of acid erosion.  The challenge is to minimize the amount of time your teeth are exposed to acids.

Think about:

What and How You Eat and Drink

  • Reduce or eliminate carbonated soft drinks (including sugar-free varieties) in your diet.    
  • Use a straw directed to the back of your mouth to reduce the contact your teeth have with acids.
  • Drink acidic drinks quickly.  Don't hold them in your mouth or sip over a long period of time.
  • Don't suck on sour fruits, candies, or frozen fruit juices.
  • Chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva flow in your mouth.

How You Care for Your Teeth

  • Don't brush your teeth immediately after having an acidic food or beverage.  Wait at least one hour before brushing your teeth.
  • Use a soft toothbrush and brush gently.  Brush your teeth twice a day.
  • Use a tooth paste designed to fortify softened teeth as recommended by your dentist.
  • Have regular dental checkups and tell your dentist about any concerns you may have.

 THE ACID TEST FOR FOODS & DRINKS

Acidity is measured by pH.  A pH level of 7 is considered neutral, neither acidic nor alkaline.  Many common foods and beverages have a pH level below 4-- acid levels that cause tooth erosion.

 ITEM                                        pH

Tap water                                  7.7-7.0

Milk                                           6.4-6.8

Cheddar cheese                         5.9-6.0

Bread                                        5.0-6.2

Bananas                                    4.5-5.2

Tomatoes                                  4.3-4.9

Beer                                          4.0-5.0

Ketchup                                    3.8-4.0

Root beer                                  3.8-4.0

Honey                                       3.7-4.2

Diet lemon-lime soda                3.7-3.8

Orange juice                             3.3-4.2

Dill pickles                                3.2-3.7

Lemon-lime soda                     3.2-3.3

Blueberries                              3.1-3.3

Apples                                     3.1-3.9

Diet cola                                  3.0-3.3

Grapefruit                                3.0-3.8

Iced Tea                                  2.9-3.0

Vinegar                                   2.4-3.4

Coffee                                     2.4-3.3

Cola                                        2.4-2.5

Sports drinks                          2.3-4.4

Wine                                      2.3-3.8

Lemon juice                           2.0-2.6

Battery acid                           1.0

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