Tooth enamel acts as a primary line of defense against daily acid, bacteria, and dirt build-up. Because our enamel is exposed to so many dangers each day, it can eventually erode and weaken later on in life. This process is known as enamel erosion, a very common oral problem that often leads to tooth sensitivity and severe pain.
Unlike dental caries, enamel erosion can’t be reversed. The best your dentist can do is to prevent any further damage to your tooth through protective treatments, such as fillings and dental veneers. Thankfully, you can prevent enamel erosion from causing trouble for your teeth through proper oral hygiene and dietary practices.
What Causes Enamel Erosion?
Enamel erosion affects around 46% of American adolescents. The reason it's so common is probably because it relies mainly on our diet and gut health, not plaque and oral bacteria. Acidic food and drinks strip away essential minerals from the teeth and weaken enamel. The more you expose your teeth to food and beverages full of sugars, starches, and acids, the more enamel is stripped away from teeth surfaces. This can eventually lead to weak and sensitive teeth, as well as a higher risk of tooth decay and infections.
Another common cause of enamel erosion is high exposure to stomach acid. People who suffer from conditions that cause constant vomiting, such as bulimia and acid reflux, are very prone to enamel erosion and resulting oral problems.
Other causes of enamel erosion can also include harmful habits like bruxism—a condition where you grind your teeth to the point of destroying essential enamel. You can also become prone to enamel erosion if your mouth can’t produce enough saliva to maintain proper pH balance and oral health. Certain medications, such as aspirin, may also induce enamel erosion as a side effect.
Symptoms of Enamel Erosion
When tooth enamel is eroded, the sensitive pulp underneath is exposed. This results in serious pain and sensitivity to extreme hot and cold. You might have enamel erosion if you can’t eat hot and cool drinks or food like ice cream and hot soup without enduring a serious stinging sensation.
Besides pain, discoloration is another common symptom of enamel erosion. Dentin, the layer underneath enamel, becomes exposed as protective minerals wear away. Since dentin is darker and more yellow in color than outer enamel, exposure of it can result in discoloration that can't be removed with simple whitening toothpaste.
Cracks, also known as dental cuppings, are a very visible symptom of enamel erosion. Without proper protective minerals, your teeth develop serious signs of damage on chewing surfaces. As a result, your inner pulp and dentin become exposed and vulnerable to dangers like mouth bacteria and extreme temperatures. Other physical symptoms of enamel erosion include transparency, rough and coarse edges, and fractures.
The Best Ways to Prevent Enamel Erosion
Enamel erosion isn’t reversible, but it is very much preventable. Here are some of the best ways to keep your tooth enamel in proper shape:
1. Avoid an Acidic Diet
Fizzy sodas, spicy food, and sugary snacks are some of the most common culprits of tooth enamel. These food items often cause a pH imbalance in the mouth and expose teeth to unhealthy amounts of sugar and starch, thus leading to weakened enamel. As much as possible, stick to a diet with healthy and non-acidic food, such as fruits, vegetables, and sugar-free snacks.
2. Drink with a Straw
Coffee, frappes, sports drinks, and other sugary beverages have also been known to cause enamel erosion. Drinking these with a straw lessens your teeth’s exposure to harmful sugars and reduces any risk of dental erosion. You can also drink a glass of water to rinse out dirt and sugar, and to lessen any chance of tooth sensitivity and cavities.
3. Ensure Proper Saliva Production
If you feel like your mouth is pretty parched, you might want to induce proper saliva production. To keep your mouth moist and healthy, drink enough water a day or chew sugar-free gum. Avoid drinking too many hot beverages as these make your mouth drier and more acidic, thus raising your risk of enamel erosion.
4. Don’t Brush Right After Vomiting
Resist the urge to brush your teeth clean right after a vomiting episode. Since your teeth become really soft after vomiting due to exposure to stomach acids, brushing too soon can lead to an erosion of enamel and essential minerals. It’s much safer to rinse with water instead and wait until your teeth are hard enough to be brushed again.
5. Brush with Fluoride
Fluoride and phosphorous both form tooth enamel and protect our teeth against daily dangers. To keep your teeth hard, tough, and healthy, brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. You can also rinse with fluoride mouthwash and drink fluoridated water to ensure that your teeth get the minerals they need for optimum oral health.