Do you know that sugar is not the only culprit when it comes to tooth decay? If you have high levels of acid in everyday foods and drinks, it can be very harmful. Food like oranges, wine, high-acid foods and beverages can wear away your teeth, causing decay, discoloration and sensitivity. In the long run, when the protective surface of your teeth wears, it could lead to a condition called tooth erosion.

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Acidic food wears away and exposes the underlying protective surface of teeth, also called the dentin. This leaves your tooth vulnerable to bacteria and plaque, which is the main cause of tooth decay. But that does not mean you have to strike all acidic food and drinks from your diet. If you reduce the amount you consume, you can lessen their damage to your teeth.

What is Tooth Erosion?

Erosion is the process of wearing away your tooth surface with an acid, which dissolves the enamel and the dentine. There are a variety of ways that your tooth structure is lost. Food-based dental erosion was first discovered way back in 1892 among the Sicilian lemon pickers. The type of food and beverages you consume can dissolve your tooth structure if they are acidic enough. 

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Gastric regurgitation is another source of acid that can dissolve teeth. Exposure to environmental substances in the air might also be a source of the erosive chemical. While rare, some individuals have saliva that is acidic enough to dissolve exposed dentin surface. This condition is called idiopathic erosion.

What Causes Tooth Erosion?

You must be knowing the basics – Calcium is a key ingredient in building strong teeth. Unfortunately, by exposing your teeth to acid, you are actually leaching calcium from your enamel. At the end causing the protective surface to break down. Acid can come from many sources, including the following:

  • Citric fruits. Eating fruits like oranges, lemons and limes can wear down your teeth.
  • Wine. Whether you choose white, red or rosé, drinking wine will soften your teeth enamel.
  • Fruit juice. The most acidic options include juices of lemon, orange, cranberry and apple.
  • Candy. Any kind of sugary sweets is harmful to your teeth. 
  • Sugar. Sugar itself does not contain high levels of acidity. But it promotes the growth of acid-creating bacteria in your mouth giving rise to an acidic environment.
  • Stomach acid. Acidity and frequent vomiting can cause serious tooth damage. When your stomach acid comes into contact with your teeth. If you suffer from GERD, an eating disorder or a related condition, immediately seek professional help.

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What Are Some Signs of Tooth Erosion?

Acid wear of your tooth enamel may lead to serious dental problems. It is important to identify the signs of tooth erosion in its early stages. This can generally be done by your dentist. Teeth sensitivity and discoloration are the two symptoms that are noticeable. Visit your dentist before more severe damage occurs, such as pain, cracks and tooth decay.

  • Sensitivity. Once your teeth’s protective enamel wears away, you may start to feel a twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot, cold or sweet food and drink. As more and more enamel is worn away, your teeth become increasingly sensitive.
  • Discoloration. Your teeth can become yellowish as the thinning enamel layer exposes the underlying dentin.
  • Transparency. Your front teeth may appear slightly translucent near the edges.
  • Rounded teeth. Your teeth may have a rounded or “sand-blasted” look.
  • Cracks. Small cracks and roughness might appear at the edges of teeth.
  • Cupping. Small dents might appear on the chewing surface of your teeth. You might also notice the fillings rise up out of the tooth.

Food & Beverage Causes of Tooth Erosion

There are two sources of acid in your mouth – one is dietary, and another is gastric. This acid in your mouth dissolves the calcium in the tooth leading to erosion of your teeth. 

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Beverages that are high in acid content include mostly carbonated beverages and citrus-based drinks like orange juice and grapefruit juice. Additionally, it has been noticed that wine also has eroding properties. This is because the pH of wine is as low as 3.0–3.8.

Your degree of tooth erosion from these acidic beverages directly depends on the frequency and amount taken. Fruits and food that are high in acidic content are citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit, as well as pickles and vinegar. If you frequently take food items and drinks that have a pH below 5.7 it might initiate dental erosion.

Role of Saliva in Tooth Erosion

You would be surprised to know that several properties and characteristics of saliva play an important role in dental erosion. It acts as a buffer for dental erosion as it lowers the pH when acidic drinks and food are ingested. 

Meaning saliva acts directly on the erosive agent by diluting, clearing, and neutralizing the acid in your mouth. In addition, it plays a role in forming a protective membrane that covers your tooth surface. In simple terms, the high consumption of dietary sources of acids will surely lead to erosion.

In some people, saliva itself might be the cause of erosion. This is because their salivary pH is lower. There could be several reasons – they might be taking some medications that alter their saliva, such as vitamin C and aspirin. 

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Don’t worry! For most of you, saliva is not acidic. And hence it will not dissolve your enamel. And hence the secretion of saliva plays a very important role in the prevention of infection and dental caries. 

Tooth Erosion Treatment 

The treatment plan depends on the type of dental erosion. Mentioned below are some options for the treatment of active tooth tissue loss.

  1. The first option is to treat your underlying medical disorder or disease.
  2. You need to modify the pH level of the food or beverage contributing to the problem.
  3. Changing your lifestyle is crucial – try to avoid the food or beverage that causes the problem.
  4. Try to decrease the abrasive forces. For example, try using a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush gently. Secondly, brush after half an hour – after consuming acidic food. Lastly, rinse your mouth with water after consuming acidic foods.
  5. Preferably use a straw for drinking.
  6. You can apply fluoride gels or varnishes to your teeth.
  7. Try drinking milk or use other dairy products.
  8. You can also use a neutralizing agent such as antacid tablets.
  9. Another option is to apply dentine bonding agents to areas that have exposed dentin.

How to Repair Tooth Enamel

The truth is that your enamel can’t be replicated. But the least your dentist can do is – provide assistance in repairing your worn-down tooth. There are primarily two main ways to treat eroded teeth:

Tooth bonding: Your dentist might opt for bonding in milder cases of enamel erosion. During this cosmetic procedure, the resin is applied to your tooth that has been damaged. Once it hardens, it is bonded to your tooth and finally trimmed and polished to fit correctly. The entire process takes an hour and your bonding procedure will only take one appointment.

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Tooth crowns: Your dentist will apply a dental crown in more serious cases of weak enamel. This procedure involves capping your tooth with a new one that will protect your damaged areas. A teeth crown can fully restore function to a damaged tooth. Thus allowing you to eat and drink without pain. It is also helpful in protecting your teeth against future decay.

What Can You Do to Prevent Tooth Erosion?

Follow these tips below to help reduce the effects of acid on your teeth.

  • Eat with meals. Instead of taking snacks throughout the day, save acidic foods for mealtimes. This will reduce the contact of these foods with your teeth. Thus helping to neutralize the acidic effect by eating it with other foods.
  • Wash down with water. When you eat acidic food, sip water alongside such food. This will help to wash your mouth after consuming acidic food or drinks.
  • Use a straw. It can drink acidic beverages using a straw. It will reduce their contact with your teeth. It will also help to finish your drink quickly instead of sipping over a long period of time.
  • Choose low or no-sugar drinks. Read nutrition labels on the packaging to keep down your sugar consumption. In addition, try to consider options like water, tea and coconut water (numerous benefits of coconut water)which are natural and sugar-free. 
  • Wait before brushing. Did you know that acid softens your enamel? So avoid brushing immediately after eating or drinking high-acid stuff as it can actually cause damage. Wait at least half an hour, and then start brushing your teeth. In the meantime, you can rinse your mouth with tap water.

Side Effects of Dental Enamel Erosion

Once you have understood the causes of enamel erosion, your next question would be – what are the side effects? 

Tooth Sensitivity – The most common side effect is tooth sensitivity. This is caused when your tooth’s protective coating starts to reduce. Your teeth might hurt when you consume hot or cold foods or when you brush.

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Yellow Teeth – Enamel erosion often results in tooth discoloration. In reality, your enamel has worn so thin that the underlying dentine of your teeth is visible, which is yellow.

Uneven Edges on the Teeth – When your tooth enamel starts to wear away, it can result in rough edges. This can eventually lead to cracks and chips.

Increased Tooth Decay – With teeth enamel wears down, your teeth become more susceptible to tooth cavities.

Tooth Fracturing – As your enamel grows weaker, the structure of your teeth can break down. Cracks and fractures will start to happen more frequently.