Many people consume carbonated beverages, fruit juice, and highly acidic foods every day but probably don’t realize that they may be harming their teeth by causing tooth erosion.
The acid in the foods we eat and drink can cause tooth enamel to wear away, and teeth can become sensitive and discolored. In many cases, it’s not what you eat and drink that is as important as how you consume these foods.
What is tooth erosion?
Tooth erosion, or tooth wear, is the loss of tooth structure caused by the weakening of dental enamel. Dental enamel is the thin, outer layer of hard tissue that helps maintain the tooth’s structure and shape. When the enamel weakens, it exposes the underlying dentin (the tissue that makes up the core of each tooth), causing the teeth to appear yellow.
What causes tooth erosion?
Tooth erosion may occur when the enamel on your teeth is weakened by the acid found in many foods and drinks. Usually, the calcium contained in saliva will help remineralize (or strengthen) your teeth after you consume small amounts of acid; however, the presence of a lot of acid in your mouth does not allow for remineralization. Acid can come from many sources, including the following:
- Carbonated drinks. All soft drinks (even diet varieties) contain a lot of acid and can dissolve enamel on your teeth very quickly.
- Fruit juice and wine. Juice and wine have similar effects on your teeth because they contain acid.
- Fruit, pickles, yogurt, and honey. These foods are acidic; don’t let them linger in your mouth. Swallow them as soon as you’ve chewed them enough.
- Bulimia and acid reflux. Bulimia and acid reflux also can cause tooth damage from stomach acids coming into contact with teeth. Medical and dental help should be sought for anyone who suffers from either of these conditions.
What are some signs of tooth erosion?
Acid wear may lead to serious dental problems. It is important to notice the signs of tooth erosion in its early stages (sensitivity, discoloration, rounded teeth) before more severe damage occurs (cracks, severe sensitivity, and other problems).
- Sensitivity. Since protective enamel is wearing away, you may feel a twinge of pain when you consume hot, cold, or sweet food and drinks. As more enamel is worn away, teeth become increasingly sensitive.
- Discoloration. Teeth can become slightly yellow because the thinning enamel layer exposes the underlying dentin.
- Rounded teeth. Your teeth may have a rounded or “sand-blasted” look.
- Transparency. Your front teeth may appear slightly translucent near the biting edges.
- Advanced discoloration. Teeth may become more yellow as more dentin is exposed because of the loss of protective tooth enamel.
- Cracks. Small cracks and roughness may appear at the edges of teeth.
- Cupping. Small dents may appear on the chewing surface of the teeth. Fillings also might appear to be rising up out of the tooth.
What can I do to prevent tooth erosion?
Because there are different reasons why you may experience tooth erosion (swishing carbonated drinks, drinking a lot of juice or wine, eating disorders), talk to your dentist about your habits so that a plan for preventive action can be determined. Be smart about how you consume acidic foods, and you can continue enjoying the things you like. Here are some general ways to protect your teeth.
- Reduce or eliminate drinking carbonated drinks. Instead, drink water, milk, or tea – but skip the sugar and honey!
- If you must consume acidic drinks, drink them quickly, and use a straw so that the liquid is pushed to the back of the mouth. Don’t swish them around or hold them in your mouth for long periods of time.
- Don’t let acidic foods linger in your mouth; swallow them as soon as you’ve chewed them enough so that they are ready to digest.
- Instead of snacking on acidic foods throughout the day, eat these foods during meal times in order to minimize the amount of time the acid is on the teeth.
- After consuming high-acid food or drinks, rinse with water to neutralize the acids.
- Chew sugar-free gum to produce more saliva, as this helps your teeth remineralize.
- Brush with a soft toothbrush and be sure your toothpaste contains fluoride.
- Your dentist may also recommend daily use of a toothpaste to reduce sensitivity (over-the-counter or prescription strength) or other products to counter the effects of erosion.”
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