Tooth erosion can affect people of all ages and is one of the most common dental diseases. It may also be called dental erosion or erosive tooth wear.
What is tooth erosion?
Tooth erosion is the loss of tooth structure (enamel and/or dentine) that is dissolved from contact with acids. These sources of acid can come from within the body, such as stomach acid from reflux or vomiting, or from outside the body such as foods and drinks. Frequent acid contact for long periods of time increases the risk and wear of the teeth. For most people with tooth erosion, the main risk factors are acidic sources from outside the body that contact the teeth, especially sugary drinks such as soft drinks, and fruit juices.
How tooth erosion occurs
Tooth erosion is the result of an individual’s diet and oral hygiene habits adding up over time. The wear process occurs in two stages.
- Erosion – acids that coat the surface of the teeth remove minerals from inside the tooth structure. This causes the outside tooth surface to become softened.
- Wear – the softened and weakened tooth surfaces are worn away by forces rubbing on the teeth, such as the other teeth.
Tooth erosion most commonly occurs on the top, biting surfaces (known as occlusal surfaces) and inside surfaces of teeth. The inside surfaces are particularly affected when the acid source comes from within the body.
Consequences of tooth erosion
Tooth erosion can negatively affect the health and appearance of the teeth. Affected teeth can become increasingly sensitive, such as to hot and cold temperatures. As well, teeth can visually appear shorter with sharper edges due to the tooth structure being worn away. The tooth surfaces that are worn away can become thin and easily chip or fracture. When multiple or all teeth are severely worn, this can affect how the teeth bite together.
Once tooth enamel is worn away, the tooth can appear darker as the inside dentine layer becomes visible through the thin enamel. Dentine is yellowish-brown in colour, so this makes the overall appearance of the teeth appear darker.
Tooth structure that is worn away can only be replaced by a dentist using treatments such as fillings or crowns.
Prevention of tooth erosion
Your dentist will be able to tell you if the surfaces of your teeth have become worn. They may discuss the potential sources of acid that have contributed to the erosion and wear of the surfaces of the teeth. Finding the acid source and removing exposure to it are important in the journey to protecting and repairing the teeth.
One of the main methods to prevent tooth erosion is to not drink too many sugary drinks. These drinks are both sugary and acidic and are not good for the health of the teeth. This includes soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and fruit juice – those with and without sugar.
Be aware that adding citrus fruits (e.g., lemons, limes) to water causes the pH of the water to drop, making the drink more acidic. Placing these fruit slices in a water bottle to sip throughout the day is not recommended as this will cause repeated acid attacks on the teeth. Sipping means the teeth will not have time to recover from the last acid attack before another occurs.
Read more about sugary drinks effect on teeth. After having acidic foods or drinks, drinking water, milk or eating a piece of cheese can help to neutralise the acids and protect the teeth. Wait at least 60 minutes before brushing your teeth after consuming acidic food or drink or vomiting. While waiting, consider rinsing your mouth with plain tap water, or fluoride mouthwash. If you are not at home, chewing sugar free chewing gum can help to stimulate saliva production that can help to rinse acids from the mouth.
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