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The Effects Of Chlorine On Your Teeth

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Chlorine is a necessary and effective way to kill harmful bacteria in drinking water and swimming pools. But you may be wondering, "is chlorine bad for your teeth?" We'll break down the potential risks of chlorine on your oral health and let you know how to protect yourself so you can continue smiling.

Why is Chlorine Used in Water?

According to the American Chemistry Council, before chlorine was used in drinking water to kill disease-causing germs, waterborne diseases killed thousands of people every year.

In pools and hot tubs, chlorine and pH are the first defense against hazardous germs that can make you sick with recreational water illnesses that cause symptoms like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rashes
  • Ear pain
  • Coughing
  • Congestion
  • And eye pain

The chlorine included in your tap water is generally not enough to cause any dental problems, but soaking in a backyard jacuzzi or doing laps at your local swimming pool regularly could have negative effects on your tooth enamel.

What Are the Effects of Chlorine on Your Teeth?

Chlorinated pools and hot tubs contain pH levels that can cause enamel erosion on your teeth. Of course, it's unlikely that you swim with your mouth open (if you do, don't), but water tends to seep into your mouth occasionally. A few visits to the local pool a year is unlikely to have any adverse effects. Still, if you swim laps daily or soak in a hot tub every night, the possibilities of enamel erosion on your teeth are real – particularly if you over-chlorinate your pool. The CDC recommends the pH levels of treated water to be between 7.2 and 7.8. The free chlorine concentration should be at least 1 part per million in pools and at least 3 parts per million in hot tubs.

If you notice any of the following symptoms after frequenting chlorinated bodies of water, your tooth enamel may be wearing away (what's called swimmer's calculus). Your teeth may:

  • Become discolored.
  • The edges of your front teeth may look transparent.
  • In later stages, you may feel extreme dental sensitivity when consuming hot or cold foods.

Learn more about how enamel erosion can affect your teeth.

How Do You Protect Your Teeth from Chlorine?

The pH level of water is invisible to the naked eye, so here are some tips to help you know if it's safe to take a dip:

  • When in a public pool or on a tropical vacation, take notice of pool linings, railings, and ladders. Pool water that's too acidic will eat away at these surfaces. If you notice spots of erosion, the water may do the same to your teeth, so consider skipping your swim or consider swimming elsewhere (perhaps a natural body of water).
  • Pool pH strips are common in local recreational supply stores and allow you to test the water before wading in.
  • If you're a homeowner, you might attempt to save money by maintaining your own backyard pool – but this can be tricky. Check your pool's pH balance once a week at a minimum, and budget permitting, hire a specialist to examine it upon your first use.

By taking these precautions when you swim in chlorinated pools and limiting how often you swim or relax in chlorinated water, you can significantly reduce your risk for enamel erosion. If you're an avid swimmer, be conscious of how much water gets in your mouth. And practice good oral hygiene for an even greater chance to withstand the effects of chlorine. Brush at least twice a day, and don't forget to brush your tongue. Consider using a toothpaste that helps replenish natural calcium to strengthen your tooth enamel. And be sure to see your dental professional for regular appointments so they can catch any developing erosion early. When you do all of this, caring for your oral health should go swimmingly.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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