Acid erosion – are you drinking your teeth away?
Dental acid erosion – what is it?
Our dental enamel is the hardest substance in the human body. It is the first line of defence for our teeth – it protects the inner, more sensitive dentine and pulp layers – however, it is not invincible. Acid exposure can dissolve and damage your enamel and cause it to wear away to expose the dentine. This can cause sensitivity and pain if not addressed early.
Dental erosion is caused by acidic foods, drinks and medicines. When we consume these acidic things, our enamel temporarily becomes softer and loses its mineral content. Our saliva will eventually neutralise the acid, but if we are brushing our teeth too soon after the acid exposure, or if the acid attacks are occurring too frequently, your mouth does not have a chance to repair itself, and your can start to wear your enamel away.
What does acid erosion look like?
Acid erosion on the teeth typically present as this:
- Chalky and pitted
- Yellow discolouration: healthy enamel will appear white, but as it thins out, more of the yellow dentine layer will show through
- Thinner, transparent and uneven edges: this will typically show on front teeth, where the lower edges will look more transparent than opaque. These edges may chip and become uneven over time
- Sensitive to hot, cold, sweet and sour foods: when our enamel wears away, the sensitive dentine layer may become exposed, and cause a sharp, shooting pain when we have these foods and drinks
What causes acid erosion?
There are two main categories for the causes of acid erosion – external and internal
External causes will typically involve food, drinks and medications and include:
- Citrus fruits
- Fruit juices
- Sparkling water, kombucha
- Soft drinks – both sugary and sugar-free
- Wine and beer
- Chewable vitamin C tablets
- Chemotherapy and other medications that irritate the stomach
- Asthma medication
Internal causes include conditions or symptoms such as
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), or gastric reflux
- Dry mouth syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome, or reduced saliva flow
Can acid erosion be prevented?
There a number of things you can do to prevent acid erosion
- Reduce your intake of fruit juices, soft drinks, sports drinks and alcohol, or have them only at mealtimes
- Reduce your intake of acidic foods
- Use a straw or drink quickly, rather than holding the drink in your mouth, or swishing it around in your mouth
- Have a drink of water after the acid exposure
- Rinse your mouth with water after vomiting
- Finish a meal with cheese or milk to help neutralise the acid
- Chew sugar-free gum for 20 minutes to help stimulate saliva flow
- Avoid alcohol and do not eat for 3 hours before going to sleep
- Have regular dental check ups and cleans
- Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth after consuming acidic drinks or vomiting
- Use fluoride toothpaste and a soft toothbrush. Only use gentle pressure when brushing; avoid ‘scrubbing’ your teeth with your brush
- Spit, do not rinse, your teeth after brushing to help the fluoride stay on your teeth for longer
How can it be treated?
Not all dental acid erosion needs to be treated with a dental procedure. If it is only minor damage to your enamel, then you will just need to have regular dental check ups so that your dentist can closely monitor the dental erosion and give advice to prevent further acid erosion damage.
If the dental acid erosion does need to be treated, treatments will depend on the extent of the acid erosion damage and if there are any symptoms with the tooth. This might include fillings, crowns, veneers, or even root canal treatment or tooth removal. Your dentist may also recommend fluoride treatment or Tooth mousse application to protect the teeth and help alleviate sensitivity