What is dental erosion?

  • Can diet help prevent dental erosion?
  • How can enamel erosion be treated?
  • Ouch! That cold drink hurts

We here a lot about tooth decay, how to keep out smiles happy and most of us know what to expect when we have a filling.

Sometimes, however, dentists mention things that we don’t understand, though we have an excellent reputation at North Street Dental for explaining clearly any planned treatment.

One of the conditions we come across is dental erosion when acid softens the tooth enamel, and the enamel erodes.

What is dental erosion?

Dental erosion – the loss of tooth enamel

Dental erosion is the loss of tooth enamel caused by acid attack. Enamel is the hard, protective coating of the tooth, which protects the sensitive dentine underneath and when the enamel is worn away, the dentine underneath is exposed.

The condition can be painful, especially when hot or cold drinks are taken.

The Oral Health Foundation, the national charity that promotes National Smile Month, has a comprehensive and easy to understand explanation on its website.

woman with tooth pain

What does dental erosion look like?

Dental erosion is seen as exposed dentine. As the surface of the tooth wears away, it can manifest itself as hollows in the teeth and a general wearing away of the tooth surface and biting edges. Dentine is a darker, yellower colour than the enamel and can be seen. Because the dentine is sensitive, teeth can also be more sensitive to heat and cold, or acidic foods and drinks.

What causes dental erosion?

The simple answer is acid. Each time we eat anything acidic, the enamel on our teeth becomes softer for a short while and loses some of its mineral content. Saliva will slowly cancel out this acidity in your mouth and get it back to its natural balance, but if this acid attack happens too often, your mouth does not have a chance to repair itself, and tiny bits of enamel can be brushed away. Over time, the surface of teeth become compromised.

We can recall the story of a veteran mountain warfare specialist who came to us for dentures. He lost his teeth stationed in a tropical location where wild pineapples were prolific, and the acid quite literally ate his teeth away over a long period.

Do medical problems cause dental erosion?

Yes. Bulimia is a condition where patients make themselves sick so that they lose weight. Because there are high levels of acid in the vomit, this can cause damage to tooth enamel.

Acids produced by the stomach can come up into the mouth (this is called gastro-oesophageal reflux). People suffering from hiatus hernia or oesophageal problems, or who drink too much alcohol, may also find they suffer from dental erosion due to vomiting.

Can diet help prevent dental erosion?

Acidic foods and drinks can cause erosion. pH value measures acidity, and anything that has a pH value lower than 5.5 is more acidic and can harm your teeth.

Fizzy drinks, sodas, pops and carbonated drinks can cause erosion. It is important to remember that even the ‘diet’ brands are still harmful. Even flavoured fizzy waters can have an effect if drunk in large amounts, as they contain weak acids which can harm teeth.

Acidic foods and drinks such as fruit and fruit juices– ­particularly citrus ones including lemon and orange – contain natural acids which can be harmful to your teeth, especially if you have a lot of them often.

‘Alcopops’, ‘coolers’ and ‘designer drinks’ that contain acidic fruits and are fizzy can cause erosion too.

Still water is the best drink for teeth. Milk is also good because it helps to cancel out the acids in your mouth.

Are sports drinks safe?

You’d expect these drinks to be safe, but many sports drinks contain ingredients that can cause dental erosion as well as decay.

child drinking fizzy drinks

What can I do to prevent dental erosion?

Here are a few choice nuggets of advice from The Oral Health Foundation:

  • Have acidic food and drinks, and fizzy drinks, sodas and pops, just at mealtimes. This will reduce the number of acid attacks on your teeth.
  • Drink quickly, without holding the drink in your mouth or ‘swishing’ it around your mouth. Or use a straw to help drinks go to the back of your mouth and avoid prolonged contact with your teeth.
  • Finish a meal with cheese or milk as this will help cancel out the acid.
  • Chew sugar-free gum after eating. This will help produce more saliva to help cancel out the acids which form in your mouth after eating.
  • Wait for at least one hour after eating or drinking anything acidic before brushing your teeth. This gives your teeth time to build up their mineral content again.
  • Brush your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with fluoride toothpaste. Use a small-headed brush with medium to soft bristles.

Should I use any other special products?

As well as using fluoride toothpaste, we may suggest a particular mouthwash that best suits the patient.

How can it be treated?

Dental erosion does not always need to be treated. With regular check-ups and advice, we can hopefully prevent the problem from getting any. If, however, a tooth does need treatment, it is essential to protect the enamel and the dentine underneath to prevent sensitivity. Usually, simply bonding a filling onto the tooth will be enough to repair it. However, in more severe cases the dentist may need to fit a veneer.