What Is Dental Erosion?
Your enamel plays a vital role in tooth health, protecting the sensitive inner layers from daily use, decay, potentially painful temperatures, and chemicals. Dental erosion occurs when acids—either internal or external—wear away at this enamel. Your body can't repair damaged enamel because it contains no living cells, so it's crucial to prioritize protecting your teeth from acid erosion.
Do You Have Acid Erosion on Your Teeth?
Your teeth are tough. That strong outer layer called enamel contains 96 percent mineral, making it the strongest substance in your body. However, your enamel is not invincible. Acid exposure can weaken and erode the surface of your teeth, causing issues if not addressed. But with the help of your dental professional and a basic understanding of dental erosion, you can keep your enamel strong and healthy.
What Are the Symptoms of Acid Erosion on Teeth?
Acid erosion makes itself known in a variety of ways. If you notice any of these signs of dental erosion, talk to your dentist immediately.
- Tooth discoloration. Healthy enamel will appear white, but dentin—the sensitive tissue located below the enamel—is yellow. If your teeth develop a yellow tinge, acid erosion might be to blame.
- Tooth appearance. If you notice that your teeth look thinner or smaller than usual, take note. The lower portion of your front teeth might also appear more transparent than opaque. Both these signs could indicate dental erosion.
- Tooth sensitivity. When your enamel wears away, the sensitive dentin becomes vulnerable. You might experience shooting pain when drinking or eating hot, cold, sour, or sweet foods.
Over time, dental erosion puts you at greater risk of developing cavities or tooth abscesses, which can eventually lead to tooth decay and loss.
What Causes Acid Erosion on Teeth?
Your teeth experience two types of erosion—extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic erosion occurs when acids that lower the body's pH level come from your food and drink choices. Intrinsic erosion happens when certain health conditions cause highly acidic stomach contents to contact your teeth.
Causes of acid erosion on teeth include:
- Soda: Carbonated soft drinks are loaded with sugar – which plaque uses to erode enamel – and even diet versions are pretty acidic. Soda consumption can erode enamel in a manner much like illicit drug use. So, similar to citrus fruits, drinking plain water is an excellent alternative to your morning pop.
- Acid Reflux: One digestive issue many people deal with is acid reflux. Also known as GERD (gastroesophageal acid reflux disease), acid reflux causes stomach acids to regurgitate into the throat and sometimes the mouth, making contact with the teeth. Avoid foods that stimulate the reflux reaction; tomatoes, spicy foods, chocolate, alcohol, and coffee can all upset your system. Keep in mind reflux can also be treated by medication. Consult your doctor if you think you suffer from acid reflux and could benefit from a more direct treatment.
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy is filled with ebbs and flows as the body works to develop a healthy baby. One of these things is morning sickness, where, in addition to lingering nausea, acid is often left behind in an expecting mother's mouth. That acid can cause eroded enamel, just like acid reflux. Therefore, brush your teeth shortly after an episode of morning sickness to remedy this effect, and drink water during these bouts of sickness for the same reason.
- Swimming Pools: Cooling off with a dip in the pool is super refreshing on a hot day, but that swim might wear away your tooth enamel. Chlorine in a pool can target your teeth as water occasionally gets in your mouth. Although it may be a hassle, check the chlorine and pH levels of the pool before getting in it.
How Do You Prevent Acid Erosion on Teeth?
You can help prevent the effects of acid erosion on your teeth by practicing these teeth-healthy habits:
- Limit or avoid acidic foods and beverages. When you indulge in an acidic drink, use a straw. Enjoy citrus, citrus-flavored, carbonated, or sour foods with high-calcium foods like milk or cheese to neutralize the acids.
- Rinse with water frequently. After eating acidic foods, rinse your mouth out with water. If you suffer from frequent vomitings, swish some water immediately afterward. Adding baking soda to the water can help counteract the acid.
- Wait to brush. Don't brush your teeth immediately after an acidic snack or an upset stomach. Instead, wait 30 minutes to an hour before cleaning your teeth, so you don't damage the enamel in its weakened state.
What Are Treatments for Acid Erosion on Teeth?
Along with these habit changes, your dentist might recommend additional treatments. For minor erosion, a remineralizing toothpaste can help strengthen your remaining enamel. If the erosion is more severe, restorations like dental bonding can cover the damaged enamel and restore its appearance, even changing your teeth' shape for a more natural look. In extreme cases, your dental professional might recommend a crown. Crowns cover the entire tooth, so they will hide severe cosmetic problems and protect the sensitive dentin.
Acid erosion can significantly impact the health of your teeth and the look of your smile. However, dental erosion can be preventable and treatable with the right diet, oral care habits and regular visits to a dental professional.