Teeth are covered by a hard shell of tissue called enamel. Enamel can be damaged by repeated exposure to sweet or acidic foods and beverages. Once enamel is gone it cannot “regrow” as other tissues in the body does. The process of acid damage is called dental erosion.
Examples of acidic foods and beverages include citrus, fruit juice, soda (regular and “diet”), sports drinks and high-sugar foods. People that suck on lemons or vomit frequently may exhibit such extreme dental erosion that the backs of their front teeth actually become “dished’out” and uncharacteristically smooth. The acid eats away the normal anatomy of dental enamel. Left unchecked, front teeth may become thin and fragile, making them subject to fracture.
Another source of acid in the mouth is acid reflux (“GERD”). When stomach acid rises up the esophogus it frequently enters and mouth (and back of the nose).
What to watch for:
Shallow pits on your teeth and flattening of the biting surfaces of your back teeth, or both, may be indications that your enamel has been subject to acid-attack. Over time the dentin layer of teeth becomes exposed. Exposed dentin can cause changes in the appearance of your teeth. They may appear shortened or yellowed, or both. Also, exposed dentin can lead to tooth sensitivity and increase your risk of tooth decay.
Once enamel is gone, it’s gone. But there are steps you can take to strengthen the enamel you have that exhibit signs of erosion. I encourage everyone to STOP DRINKING SODA, this includes regular and “diet” soda. Diet sodas are sweetened with artificial chemicals and have a much higher concentration of acid (like phosphoric acid) than regular soda. Water is your best bet!
After episodes of acid reflux or vomiting rinse your mouth with plain water then wait for an hour if you can before brushing your teeth.
Chewing sugar-free gum is a great way to encourage saliva flow which will help remove acid from your mouth.
Use a soft-bristle brush and warm water to brush your teeth. Use a fluoride toothpaste sparingly. Swish your mouth with a fluoride mouth rinse twice a day (morning after breakfast and at night just before bed).
If you are exhibiting signs of erosion or tooth sensitivity talk to your dentist. He or she can help devise strategies that work best for your lifestyle to keep your enamel healthy.