The outer surface of teeth, called enamel, should last a lifetime. "Enamel is the hardest substance in the body," says dentist Leslie Seldin, DDS, a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association.
Some wear and tear of tooth enamel is normal. But Seldin says there's plenty you can do to keep your enamel strong. Start with these eight steps.
1. Limit Sugary Soft Drinks and Foods
Sugar leads to acids in the mouth, which soften and eventually wear away at enamel. Chewy candies that stick on your teeth are very damaging. Soft drinks may have extra acids. Artificially sweetened soft drinks are a smarter choice than sugary soft drinks. But sugarless sweeteners are also acidic and may erode enamel over time. The best choice when you're thirsty? A glass of water.
2. Help Yourself to Foods That Protect Enamel
Calcium in foods counteracts acids in your mouth, and also helps keep bones and teeth strong. Milk, cheese, and other dairy products all help protect and strengthen enamel, says Pamela L. Quinones, RDH. She's a past president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy to help keep fat and calories to a minimum. If you don't eat dairy, look for fortified foods. Choose citrus juice with added calcium to buffer the natural acids.
3. Avoid Over-Brushing
Brushing too fast and hard can wear down enamel. Hold a soft-bristle brush at about a 45-degree angle to your gums and move it back and forth in short, gentle strokes, about the distance of one tooth, Seldin says. Wait for up to an hour after eating sweets or citrus fruits. Acidic foods temporarily soften enamel and may make it easier to damage. Give your enamel time to re-harden before cleaning.
4. Use Fluoride to Make You Stronger
The American Dental Association (ADA) calls fluoride "nature's cavity fighter" because it strengthens enamel and helps repair the early stages of tooth decay. Fluoride also makes your teeth more resistant to acids that come from foods and from bacteria in your mouth. The ADA recommends fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first tooth appears and throughout life. Other fluoride dental products, like rinses, also help prevent cavities and strengthen your teeth's enamel.