Most of us know sugar is bad for teeth because it feeds bacteria that cause tooth decay. But fewer are aware that equally as damaging for teeth is acid, and that repeated exposure to high levels of acid can cause tooth erosion.
Unlike dental decay, tooth erosion is not a disease and it’s not caused by bacteria. It occurs when acid dissolves the hard tissues of the tooth. In its early stages, it strips away the surface layers of tooth enamel. In advanced stages, it can expose the softer dentine that underlies tooth enamel, or even the central pulp of the tooth.
Among indicators that your tooth is seriously eroded are chalkiness on the surface, pitting, opaqueness and a scalloping out of the tooth’s top surface, which, in some cases, can leave fillings exposed and teeth feeling very sensitive.
Higher than usual levels of acid in the mouth can occur for a range of medical and lifestyle reasons, but the most common cause of tooth erosion is repeated exposure to acids in the foods and drinks we consume.
Beverages with pH levels below 5.5 are comparatively acidic. This includes soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit juices, cordials, coffee, tea and wine. But it’s not simply a matter of pH levels. It’s the mix of chemicals in a beverage that determines whether or not it is harmful to teeth.
If consuming coffee, tea, cola or chocolate, make sure you keep your mouth hydrated by drinking plenty of water at the same time or afterwards.
effect had a higher pH, along with higher calcium content.
Treatment and prevention
So what can you do if you’re concerned about losing your teeth? Early erosion can be treated by a dentist with fluoride source of calcium phosphate. In more advanced cases, the lost tooth surface may need a filling or a crown.
- Drink lots of water, particularly between meals.
- Don’t brush your teeth straight after drinking acidic or sugary beverages as this can remove the softened tooth layer. Instead, rinse your mouth with water and wait an hour before brushing.
- If you are drinking acidic beverages, do so at meal times because the increased salivary flow that occurs when you’re eating will help neutralise acid.
- Consume soft drinks, fruit juices and sports drinks through a straw as this will lessen the amount of beverage retained in the mouth.
- Chew sugar-free gum (particularly one with bio-available calcium phosphate) as this can stimulate saliva flow and rinse away acids.
Finally, be wary of claims that sugar-free beverages are good for your teeth. Check ingredient lists for food acids to ascertain if the drink is likely to be erosive.
If you think you’re at risk of tooth erosion, give us a call today on 02 4869 3111 to make an appointment.