A man drinking an acidic drink

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 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. Because your enamel contains no living cells, your body cannot repair this damage, so you should prioritize protecting your teeth from acid erosion.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Tooth sensitivity. When your enamel wears away, the sensitive dentin becomes vulnerable. You might experience a 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. Sodas present a significant risk of damage, but other seemingly healthy beverages — like fruit juices or sports drinks — also carry erosive acids. Citrus fruits are naturally acidic, and foods high in sugar like candy can create problems, too.

Intrinsic erosion happens when certain health conditions cause highly acidic stomach contents to contact your teeth. Those who experience frequent vomitings — like a pregnant woman with morning sickness or someone who struggles with bulimia — are at higher risk for dental erosion. Similarly, gastroesophageal acid reflux disease (GERD) is a condition that makes acid from your stomach come back up into your throat and mouth involuntarily. This reflux leads to frequent heartburn but also the erosion of tooth enamel.

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 choose to 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 dentist 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, with the right diet, oral care habits, and regular visits to the dentist, dental erosion is highly preventable and treatable.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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