The outer surface of teeth, called enamel, is designed to last a lifetime. "Enamel is the hardest substance in the body," says dentist Leslie Seldin, DDS, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Some wear and tear of tooth enamel is inevitable. 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 the production of acids in the mouth, which soften and eventually wear away at enamel. Chewy candies that stick on your teeth are particularly damaging. So are soft drinks. Along with sugar, soft drinks may contain citric acid and phosphoric acid, making them even more acidic. Artificially sweetened soft drinks are a smarter choice than sugary soft drinks. But sugarless sweeteners are 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 neutralizes acids in your mouth. Calcium is also an essential mineral needed to keep bones strong. Milk, cheese, and other dairy products all help protect and strengthen enamel, says Pamela L. Quinones, RDH, 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 frequently drink orange juice, O.J. with added calcium may be the best choice. Calcium buffers the normal acidity of orange and other citrus juices.
3. Avoid Over-brushing
Brushing too vigorously can wear down enamel. "Always use a soft brush and brush gently," says Seldin. Hold the brush at about a 45-degree angle to your gums and move it back and forth in short strokes, about the distance of one tooth. Don't brush immediately after eating sweets or citrus fruits. Acidic foods temporarily soften enamel and may make it more susceptible to damage from brushing. Wait for up to an hour after you eat, giving your enamel time to re-harden. Then brush your teeth.
4. Treat Heartburn and Eating Disorders
With severe heartburn, stomach acids may escape up into the esophagus. If those acids reach your mouth, they can erode enamel. The eating disorder bulimia, in which people vomit food after they eat, is another threat to enamel. If you have symptoms of heartburn or bulimia, talk to your doctor about treatment.
5. Beware of Chlorinated Pools
When swimming pools aren't chlorinated properly, the water may become too acidic. Tooth enamel exposed to pool water can begin to erode. In a study by the Centers for Disease Control, 15% of frequent swimmers showed signs of enamel erosion, compared to only 3% of people who don't swim. Check with the recreation center or gym where you swim to make sure the pool's pH is checked regularly. While swimming, keep your mouth closed to avoid exposing your teeth to chlorinated water.