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Is your pool safe for your teeth?

Experts at the New York University College of Dentistry have issued a warning to users of backyard swimming pools. Pools that are improperly maintained can cause severe and rapid erosion of dental enamel.

Dental erosion is the loss of hard tissue from the tooth surface that can lead to a host of oral health problems ranging from moderate sensitivity, discoloration and rounded teeth to cracks and severe sensitivity. The damage can be permanent, said Dr. Leila Jahangiri, a clinical associate professor and the chair of NYU College of Dentistry Department of Prosthodontics. "Improperly maintained pool chlorination in swimming pools can cause rapid and excessive erosion of dental enamel," said Dr. Jahangiri. "It is a difficult balance to maintain home pools properly. Proper pool chlorine and pH levels need to be monitored and maintained on a weekly basis."

Doing the work themselves can be cost-effective for pool owners, she adds, but carries some consequences.

"Maintenance by a professional pool service may cost thousands of dollars a season, so many homeowners try and maintain their pools themselves," Dr. Jahangiri said. "Improper pH levels can result in irreversible damage to one's teeth."

The effects of improper pH levels were observed by Dr. Jahangiri and colleagues Steven Pigliacelli and Dr. Ross Kerr, who authored an as-yet unpublished paper called "Severe and Rapid Erosion of Dental Enamel from Swimming: A Clinical Report."

Their research was based on a 52-year-old male whose main complaints included “extremely sensitive teeth,” dark staining and rapid enamel loss over a five-month period beginning in May of 2010.

The enamel loss was a direct result of the patient's 90-minute swimming exercise routine he started earlier that summer, Dr. Jahangiri and her team concluded. Since he had never hired professional service to maintain his pool, given the timing coincidence and the lack of other possible causes, improper pool chlorination was ruled to be responsible for the patient's dental erosion.

"If the chemical levels are not properly maintained, pool water contact with teeth can cause serious enamel erosion," Dr. Jahangiri said. Case studies show that the effect occurs when the pH of the water ranges between 2.7 and 7.

Dr. Jahangiri is intent on raising awareness of improperly maintained pools.

"This case really worried me," she said. "Given all the owner-maintained backyard swimming pools there are, the possibilities for people to harm their own teeth are staggering."

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