Tooth enamel is the strongest substance in the human body. This semi-translucent, hard, outer layer of the teeth has an important job: protecting teeth from the daily wear and tear of biting and chewing, as well as temperature extremes from hot or cold foods and drinks. Enamel also guards teeth against the erosive effects of acids and chemicals.
Enamel covers the dentin, a part of the tooth that is not as dense as enamel. When enamel erodes, the dentin loses some of its protection. Then, the microscopic tubes inside the dentin allow hot, cold, or sweet foods to stimulate nerves within the tooth. As a result, you may notice that your teeth have become painfully sensitive to hot or cold foods and drinks and sweets.
What Causes Tooth Enamel Erosion?
Many factors can contribute to tooth enamel loss:
- Drinking too many soft drinks or fruit drinks, along with poor dental hygiene. Bacteria thrive on sugar and produce high acid levels that can eat away at enamel.
- Eating lots of sour foods or candies. Acidic foods can erode tooth enamel.
- Dry mouth or low saliva volume. Saliva helps prevent decay by neutralizing acids and washing away leftover food in the mouth.
- Acid reflux disease (GERD), or heartburn. Acid reflux brings stomach acids up to the mouth, where the acids can erode enamel.
- Bulimia, alcoholism, or binge drinking, in which frequent vomiting exposes teeth to stomach acids.
- Certain drugs or supplements with high acid content, such as aspirin or vitamin C, can also erode enamel.
- Friction and wear and tear from brushing teeth too vigorously or grinding teeth can erode enamel.
What Are the Symptoms of Tooth Enamel Erosion?
When tooth enamel erodes, teeth are more vulnerable to cavities and decay, you may have these symptoms:
- Sensitive teeth or tooth pain when eating hot, cold, or sweet foods or drinks
- Rough or irregular edges on the teeth, which can become cracked or chipped when enamel is lost
- Smooth, shiny surfaces on the teeth -- enamel erosion causes mineral loss on these areas
- Yellowed teeth from thinned enamel
- Cupping, or dents, that show up on the biting or chewing surfaces of the teeth
How Can You Protect Tooth Enamel From Erosion?
Good dental care at home and at the dentist’s office can help prevent tooth enamel erosion. Here are 12 tips that can help:
- Cut down on acidic drinks and foods, such as carbonated drinks and citrus fruits and juices. If you do drink them, do so at mealtimes to minimize their effects on the enamel.
- Switch to modified products, such as low-acid orange juice.
- Rinse your mouth with water right after having acidic foods or drinks.
- Drink sodas and fruit juices with a straw, which helps acids to bypass the teeth. Don’t swish acidic drinks around in your mouth.
- Finish a meal with a glass of milk or piece of cheese to neutralize acids.
- Chew sugar-free gum with xylitol, which reduces acids from foods and drinks. Chewing gum also increases saliva flow, which helps prevent enamel erosion because saliva strengthens teeth with key minerals.
- Drink more water during the day if you have dry mouth or low saliva problems.
- Use a soft toothbrush and avoid brushing too aggressively.
- Wait for at least one hour to brush teeth after you've had acidic foods or drinks. Acid leaves the enamel softened and more prone to erosion during brushing.
- Use fluoride toothpaste or a fluoride mouth rinse to strengthen your teeth.
- Ask your dentist to recommend a toothpaste to reduce tooth sensitivity or to protect against acid erosion.
- Get treatment for disorders that can bring acid into the mouth, such as bulimia, alcoholism, or GERD.