While many people may know the importance of daily brushing and flossing to maintain their oral health, not as many people know how to protect their teeth from another common oral health threat. Dental erosion is a process that weakens the tooth enamel and can eventually lead to the formation of cavities. It often goes unnoticed by almost anyone except dentists, but it can cause tooth sensitivity, indentations on the enamel, and discoloration in some cases.
To understand how dental erosion happens, we must first take a look at your tooth enamel. Tooth enamel is composed of hydroxyapatite, which is a fancy way of saying that at a molecular level, enamel is a crystalline structure made up of calcium and phosphate molecules. This crystalline structure, along with the fact that enamel is composed of 96% minerals, makes tooth enamel the strongest substance in the human body.
Unfortunately, however, tooth enamel is not indestructible and it does have one major enemy. When exposed to acid, the mineral concentration of enamel decreases and causes the enamel to weaken. Usually the enamel can remineralize itself after daily acid exposure. In cases where there is an excessively high concentration of acid, however, the enamel is unable to remineralize and will instead continue to be weakened. This is how dental erosion occurs. Dental erosion can be caused by many things, including:
Certain foods, such as apples, rhubarb, berries, and citrus fruits contain higher amounts of acid than others. Regularly eating these foods or eating lots of them exposes your enamel to higher amounts of acid. However, this is not saying to avoid these foods. Rather, they should be eaten in moderation.
Just as some foods are more acidic than others, so are beverages. Fruit juices, especially apple and citrus juices, are one of these beverages that contain higher amounts of acid. Another common beverage with high amounts of acid are sodas that contain citric or phosphoric acid. Again, it is important to consume these beverages in moderation to prevent enamel erosion.
There are certain health conditions that can also expose your teeth to higher amounts of acid. The first and most popular condition is GERD. Due to stomach acid traveling up your esophagus, your teeth are likely to be exposed to stomach acid or highly acidic saliva on a regular basis. Additionally, other health conditions can also lead to dental erosion if they cause frequent vomiting.
Dry mouth is a decreased production of saliva that can also contribute to dental erosion. This is because saliva plays an important role by regulating acid levels in the mouth and providing the necessary minerals for enamel to remineralize itself. However, less saliva ultimately means a decreased ability to regulate acids and less minerals for remineralization.
Overall, dental erosion is a common oral health threat that many people may be unaware of. Although it may not be as serious as tooth decay, it is still important to try and avoid enamel erosion because it can eventually lead to tooth decay. Therefore, limiting the amount of acidic foods and beverages consumed, managing certain health conditions, and treating dry mouth are essential practices to prevent dental erosion.
Dr. Chris Vinson and Dr. Kristie Vinson attended the College of Dentistry at The University of Oklahoma. Dr. Chris Vinson has earned a fellowship from the Misch International Implant Institute and a fellowship in International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is also certified to administer Oral and IV sedation to his patients through The Montefiore College of Medicine in New York and is Teeth-Express and Invisalign certified. Dr. Kristie Vinson is trained in sedation dentistry, Botox, and dermal fillers. She received a Fellowship from the Misch International Implant Institute and the Fellowship in International Congress of Oral Implantology. She is also Teeth-Express and Invisalign Certified.