THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF ACID
WHAT IS TOOTH EROSION?
Enamel (e-NAM-ul) is the hardest outside layer of your tooth that protects a softer inner layer. Tooth erosion (ee-ROW-zhun) happens when the enamel begins to wear away, exposing the inner layer of the tooth, called dentin.
When the enamel thins out, your tooth protection is weakened and the inside layers can be exposed to more acid and bacteria. This puts you at a greater risk of having problems like sensitive teeth, decay and cavities.
ACID CAUSES TOOTH EROSION
Tooth erosion happens from several causes that have one thing in common — acid. If your teeth come in contact with acid on a regular basis, the acid can attack your tooth enamel and start to cause erosion. There are many ways that acid can reach your teeth, such as:
- Drinking beverages that have high levels of acid. This includes sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks and energy drinks.
- Acid reflux/GERD. Acid reflux happens when acids from your stomach travel up your throat and into your mouth. Heartburn is how people sometimes describe acid reflux. If you have heartburn most days or nights, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD. This acid from your stomach can cause erosion on the inside surfaces of your teeth.
- Frequent vomiting. People with an eating disorder known as bulimia force themselves to vomit frequently (also called purging). Morning sickness during pregnancy also causes vomiting. Vomiting causes stomach acids to come in contact with your teeth. With frequent vomiting, the stomach acid can weaken and wear away your tooth enamel, especially on the upper front teeth.
GET HELP FOR YOUR EATING DISORDER
You aren’t alone. Talk to your dentist or physician about how you can get healthy. Or, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline and talk to someone confidentially. 1.800.931.2237.
DON’T BRUSH IMMEDIATELY AFTER EATING.
Acids can attack your enamel and soften it. Your saliva rinses acids away and helps your enamel to re-harden. If you brush your teeth before the enamel has time to re-harden, it can damage the enamel. Waiting a half hour to an hour after eating before brushing may lower the risk of harming your enamel.
IS YOUR FAVORITE DRINK HARMFUL TO YOUR TEETH?
When you sip on acidic drinks, the acid washes over your teeth and weakens your enamel. If you sip these drinks several times a day, your teeth are under constant threat from the acid and don’t have a chance to stay strong and protect against decay-causing bacteria. Many popular beverages are highly acidic and may cause tooth erosion.
TOOTH EROSION HARMS YOUR TEETH
These are some of the common problems that are linked with tooth erosion:
- Teeth sensitivity to hot and cold or sweet foods
- Teeth discoloration
- Decay and cavities
- Abscess (pus-filled sac) can form
- Tooth loss
- Fractured teeth
MANAGING TOOTH EROSION
Once the enamel on your teeth wears away, it doesn’t grow back. But, there are ways to manage erosion that can also help to prevent future erosion from happening. What to do about your tooth erosion will depend on what is causing it to happen as well as your own personal health history.
Ways to manage the effects of tooth erosion can include:
- Veneer — a thin but strong covering that’s placed over the front part of your tooth. It’s made to look like your natural tooth and can restore the look of your smile.
- Tooth restoration — if you have a cavity, you may need a filling. You may also need a crown if the cavity is larger than what a filling can restore.
- Root canal — if the nerves of your tooth are infected, you may need root canal therapy.
- Tooth removal — if the erosion is severe and your tooth can’t be restored, it may need to be removed.
TIPS TO PREVENT TOOTH EROSION
- Avoid drinking acidic beverages. If you do have an acidic beverage, drink through a straw to lower your teeth’s exposure to the acids in your drink.
- Drink water while eating, or rinse your mouth with water after having acidic drinks, candies or foods.
- Chew sugarless gum or have sugarless candy to help increase saliva. Saliva can help remove acid from your teeth.
- Avoid brushing teeth immediately after eating or drinking acidic beverages. Research suggests waiting a half hour to one hour after eating or drinking.
- After vomiting, rinse your mouth with water or milk, but wait one hour before brushing.
- If you suffer from frequent heartburn or acid reflux, talk to your physician about ways you can get it under control.
- Look for oral health care products with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. The ADA Seal in this category means that a product is both safe and effective in helping to prevent and reduce enamel erosion from dietary acids.