There's plenty to think about when it comes to your dental health these days. Practicing good oral hygiene to prevent tooth decay is just a scratch on the surface when it comes to oral care. You also have to take into consideration what daily habits will have a lasting effect on your teeth's vitality. A poor diet can lead to tooth erosion, or the wearing away of tooth enamel. Tooth enamel erosion happens when acidic substances break down the outermost layer of teeth, slowly "eroding" enamel over time and exposing dentin to outside elements.
Before you start to panic, understand that our mouths are actually designed to process the acid found in our daily diets: Saliva helps neutralize small amounts of acid and remineralizes teeth to strengthen enamel and prevent erosion. But consuming a large amount of acid all too frequently prevents teeth from keeping up with the remineralization process, thus weakening enamel.
Consuming acidic foods and drinks on an ongoing basis will lead to teeth erosion. Eating disorders, such as bulimia, and acid reflux disease are also significant causes of dental erosion. Vomiting releases stomach acid into your mouth, and constant binging and purging frequently exposes bulimics to the acidic substances that corrode teeth.
The pH Factor
Unlike tooth decay, which is caused by dental plaque bacteria, tooth enamel erosion is a direct attack by the chemicals found in acidic foods and drinks. Dental erosion is a result of continuously low pH levels in the mouth. The pH measures the level of acidity on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Any number below 7 is considered acidic, and the lower the pH level, the more acid the product contains. If the substance has a pH higher than 7, it is non-acidic and will not contribute to tooth erosion.
How can you tell what the pH level is of the foods and drinks you're consuming? Unfortunately, it may not be listed on the packaging. But sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks and wines all have a low pH level, with great potential of causing tooth erosion if consumed frequently. Foods that also have a high acidic content include pickles, citric fruits and yogurt. And as low pH levels limit the growth of bacteria, you can often find acidic agents used as preservatives in many foods and medicines.
It Sure Does a Number on Your Teeth
If the numbers don't add up for you, consider this: Teeth erosion has some annoying symptoms. The first sign of tooth enamel erosion is sensitive teeth, followed by tooth discoloration. Teeth may also appear rounded or transparent. In the advanced stages, cracks will most likely form on the teeth, and small dents known as "cupping" will emerge on the surface. If you have a tooth filling, it will appear raised as the enamel surrounding it continues to disintegrate.
If you suffer from any one of these symptoms, see a dentist as soon as possible. The worse symptoms get, the more sensitivity you will suffer. And eventually, the loss of enamel can lead to extreme dental problems.
There are several ways to help prevent or discontinue the process of tooth enamel erosion. Ideally, it would be best to reduce the foods and drinks that lower pH levels. But understand that even healthy foods can cause tooth erosion -- so don't start cutting out fruits and yogurt just yet. Instead, limit them to mealtimes, and focus on eliminating the acidic foods and drinks that aren't part of a balanced diet. When snacking, stick with foods and drinks that have a higher pH level, like milk, cheese, vegetables, breads and coffee -- but hold the sugar!
If you must have sodas and sports drinks, drink them quickly through a straw and refrain from swishing the liquid around your mouth to limit the acid's contact with teeth. Once you consume acidic foods or drinks, do not immediately brush your teeth afterwards. This can further damage your already softened enamel, enabling it to wear even faster. Instead, swish water around your mouth to neutralize the acid, and wait at least an hour to brush your teeth. You can also chew sugar-free gum to help produce the saliva that remineralizes teeth.