What is dental erosion?
Dental erosion occurs when acid attacks teeth, resulting in the irreversible loss of tooth mineral. Acids can come in contact with teeth either through the foods and drinks we ingest, or by gastric acid through reflux and vomiting. Acids have pH values under 7 (neutral) and the lower the pH, the more powerful the acid.
Gastric acid erosion is quite characteristic and easily identified due the location of the eroded surfaces being generally confined to the inward facing surfaces of the teeth. Dietary acid erosion tends to be spread more evenly.
What foods cause erosion?
Drinks provide the most ready form of acids to attack teeth. Examples include soft drinks with pH ranging between 2 and 3, fruit juice and wine. Sports drinks have fast become one of the most potent causes of erosion with their pH between 3 and 4.
Citrus foods and other acidic fruits and vegetables consumed too frequently can also cause significant erosion. The trick is to add variety in these foods so that, for example, you aren’t eating oranges three times a day every day.
Counteracting acid erosion
Saliva has a very important role in buffering the effects of the acid and neutralising the oral pH quickly after any kind of acid exposure. People with reduced salivary flow have trouble with acid erosion. Drinking more water helps, particularly as a ‘chaser’ after acid exposure.
Using a drinking straw works well to allow acidic drinks to bypass the teeth and therefore minimise damage.
As counterintuitive as it seems, brushing straight after eating or drinking is a very bad idea from an erosion standpoint. Acid softens the outer layer of the teeth, and brushing at this time accelerates the loss of this layer of tooth mineral. It is best to allow half an hour after any eating before getting the toothbrush out.
What can be done?
Preventive steps include dietary awareness and using fluoride toothpaste and remineralising substances. Active treatment involves repairing any area of exposed dentine (the layer underlying the tough outer enamel). This can range from small fillings for isolated problems all the way to full crowns in the event of extensive erosion.