What’s Eating Your Teeth?

December 21, 2010

Acid erosion sounds pretty doggone bad, but most people don’t even know what it is. As a dentist, it’s my job to tell you!

First of all, acid erosion occurs when acidic substances come in contact with tooth enamel. The acid causes tooth enamel to soften and release valuable minerals. Over time, saliva neutralizes acids, re-mineralizes tooth structure, and, thus, re-hardens tooth enamel. Problem is, if acid comes in contact with teeth again, before saliva’s restoration powers have worked their magic, the tooth cannot recover. Enamel wears down (we call this tooth structure loss or TSL), and the sensitive underlying layer of dentin can become exposed. Repeated acid attacks can result in thinner tooth enamel, possible change in tooth appearance, small cracks on edges of teeth, and mild to extreme tooth sensitivity. TSL can also increase the risk for cavities.

A food or beverage’s acidity is measured by its pH level, which can range from 1 (acidic) to 14 (alkaline or basic). Tooth enamel begins to dissolve when in contact with substances that have a 5.5 or lower pH. Dentin erodes at a pH of 6.5 or lower.

We consume acidic substances all the time, and many are part of a healthy diet. For example, fruits, teas, coffees, and colas are acidic. Furthermore, starches and sugars turn into acid when they come in contact with bacteria in the mouth. You cannot get away from acids.

The key is, to protect your teeth, consume sugary, starchy, and acidic foods and beverages quickly, and do not let them sit in your mouth for long. Afterwards, rinse your mouth with water. Don’t grab your toothbrush. Give your saliva time to repair and restore your teeth’s minerals before brushing. Wait at least an hour.

So when you drink OJ or coffee in the morning, you should NOT brush your teeth afterward. Instead, brush first, then have your morning beverage, then rinse with water.

Parents should know, children’s primary teeth are more susceptible to acid erosion because they do not have the mineral content of permanent teeth. Only put milk or water into baby bottles, and when you give a child juice, dilute it: 1 pt juice, 10 pts water. Also, don’t let kiddos drink colas between meals. If they’re going to linger over a beverage, make it water or milk. Using a straw can help, as well, as it lessens contact between beverage and teeth. And after nighttime brushing, only give your child water to drink.

Another note, stomach acid is obviously extremely acidic. If you suffer from acid reflux, be aware that in addition to the gastric problem and discomfort the condition causes, your teeth are subjected to potential TSL.

I’m Dr. Brad Greenfield of Lake Orion Family Dentistry, and I’d like to help your family enjoy a lifetime of healthy, strong, beautiful smiles. If you need a general dentist, call my office today at 248-693-6213 to schedule a checkup or consultation. Happy holidays!

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