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Are You at Risk for Tooth Erosion?

Enamel is the great protector of your tooth surface. Over time, however, even this hard surface can get kinks in its armor. A literal daily spit and polish can help fend off attacks to your enamel and prevent subsequent tooth erosion.

Signs of Enamel Erosion

Most tooth erosion occurs over time, and it could take several years for you to realize it’s happening. Usually, some discomfort while eating or drinking is the first sign, and people then start looking for ways to alleviate the pain. Here’s the bad news: Tooth erosion is permanent, so be on the lookout for signs that your enamel has begun to erode:

  • Tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet drinks
  • Discoloration of the teeth
  • Fillings that start feeling different    
  • Increased cavities
  • Abscess or tooth loss in extreme cases

Once tooth erosion occurs, you’re in line for fillings, crowns, a root canal, or even tooth removal, so it is important to make changes to prevent additional erosion.

It’s All About the Acids

Acid is the kryptonite of tooth enamel, slowly attacking by finding weaknesses and settling in to erode the outer protection and get at the tooth itself. The acids responsible for tooth erosion can be traced to both intrinsic (coming from within the body) and extrinsic (coming from outside) sources. Intrinsic sources include health conditions such as xerostamia (dry mouth or low saliva) as well as those that force excess stomach acids back up into the mouth such as acid reflux (GERD), bulimia, alcoholism, and even pregnancy. Environmental factors including friction, wear and tear, stress, and corrosion also factor in.      

Extrinsic sources are the most common and also the most easily regulated. They include:

  • Excessive soft drink consumption
  • Fruit drinks
  • Aggressive brushing
  • Diet high in sugar and starches
  • Medications with antihistamines
  • Aspirin

Rule of thumb: if what you’re drinking is carbonated, sour or citrus (either natural or flavored), moderation is best. If you do indulge, consider using a straw. This takes the liquid to the back of your mouth and limits the exposure to the teeth.

Even nutritious foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits can have acidic effects on your enamel and should be limited to part of a meal and not the meal itself. Sticky foods like candies, raisins, and other dried fruits also cause problems when they adhere to teeth, giving shelter to acids produced by cavity-causing bacteria.

Still, the major tooth erosion culprit is soft drinks, especially soda and sports drinks which contain high levels of phosphoric acid and citric acids. Even if they are sugar-free, they are more likely to be acidic thanks to carbonation. That bubbly fizz raises the acid level of any drink, regardless of its flavor. The acid in beverages can also come from citrus flavorings such as lemon, lime, and orange. Even all-natural beverages like orange juice or fresh-squeezed lemonade are higher in acid than regular water, so make them an occasional treat instead of a daily habit. 

While it’s a long shot to assume we can eliminate all acids from our diets, following up with a glass of water or milk, or even a snack of cheese, can help to neutralize the acids in your mouth. A dentist can explain the effects of nutritional choices on your teeth, including the various foods and beverages to choose from and which ones to avoid. Knowing all you can about the effects of what you eat and drink on your teeth can help you make the right choices for your overall health.

Spit on It!

One of your best defenses against tooth erosion is already naturally in place. Saliva helps keep acids under control with its natural protective quality. Waiting an hour to brush after eating acidic foods gives your saliva a chance to naturally wash away acids and re-harden your enamel. You can also help keep your saliva flowing and protecting your teeth by chewing sugarless gum that has the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

Saliva serves multiple functions in your body. It increases the overall health of your body tissues, removes waste material from the mouth, and also protects tooth enamel by coating the teeth in protective calcium and other minerals. Saliva also dilutes erosive acid and boosts protective substances that help fight mouth bacteria and disease. In a healthy mouth, calcium-rich saliva helps strengthen teeth, even if you drink an acidic soda or juice. Again, moderation is the key because while saliva will help your body process these acids, it can’t fully protect against an overabundance.

The Dangers of Filing

Normal wear and tear is common on front teeth, particularly the lower front teeth. An unfortunate trend in 2020 saw young people actually filing the edges of their teeth to create a straighter look. “Teeth filing is hands down the worst thing a person can do,” says Dr. Mitchmore. This risky practice accelerates the rate of erosion on the enamel exponentially, making those teeth at greater risk for damage and infection, not to mention sensitivity, serious headaches and even tooth loss.

Regular Preventative Oral Care

The bottom line: healthy habits lead to an overall healthy lifestyle. Keeping your mouth, teeth, and gums healthy can ward off tooth erosion, decay, and the need for restorative procedures. Watching your diet and intake of acidic foods and beverages not only aid in limiting gastric acid issues but can also help keep your tooth enamel strong and enduring like the mighty defense      it is intended to be. A strong oral care regimen is always part of a comprehensive health plan. Regular visits to your dentist can detect any signs of tooth erosion or other issues requiring attention. Dr. Mitchmore and his team can discuss multiple treatment options to help you maintain a bright and healthy smile. Call LifeSmiles today at 713-592-9300 to schedule your appointment.