What is it?
Acid erosion or wear relates to the irreversible loss of tooth surface, initially the enamel, by acids in what we eat, drink and from bacteria breaking down sugar on our teeth into acids. Even though enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, it can still be lost through repeated exposure to acid from food and drinks or from the stomach, due to sickness. It’s a slow, progressive problem. There is widespread ignorance of the damaging effects of acid erosion since many of the culprits are ‘healthy’ foods.
What do you mean by acids?
This includes everything from citrus fruits to vinegar, as well as fruit juice, squash, all types of fizzy drinks, including ones that don’t even contain fruit, like Coke. Even sugar-free fizzy drinks often have acidic ingredients. Basically, any food and drink that contains sugar, either naturally occurring or as an added ingredient. This includes dried fruits, such as raisins and cranberries.
Immediately after eating or drinking bacteria start to attack any sugar left on the teeth, breaking it down into acids. So, it’s not just about things with an acidic content, as acid is also created by bacteria breaking down any sugars.
What are the signs of acid erosion?
Sensitivity when eating or drinking hot, cold or sweet things and discolouration. Worryingly, in the early stages, teeth can still look natural and white, giving a false sense of security. Similarly, a translucent edge to the tooth or a really smooth front surface may look ok, but could indicate the first signs of the enamel thinning.
What about treatment?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment. Once the enamel is gone, it’s gone for good. By the time patients seek help, it can be too late, making restorations to damaged teeth more difficult and costly. Therefore, preventing or minimising the impact of acid in the first place is the key.
Early detection can make all the difference, so have regular dental check-ups and raise any concerns with your dentist, who can take models of your teeth to monitor any erosion over time.
What can I do to help protect my teeth?
1) Be more aware of acids in food and drinks and cutting back on certain things. We’re not suggesting cutting out fruit or juices altogether, as these are important in a healthy diet; just reducing excessive consumption.
2) Brush your teeth twice a day, so the bacteria can’t attack the sugar and turn it into acid.
3) Chew gum after eating, as this increases saliva and can help to neutralise plaque acids.
4) You could also switch to a toothpaste such as Sensodyne Pronamel® which can help to re-harden enamel.
Any other tips?
Try not to graze or snack between meals, as this leaves your teeth under prolonged attack. To lessen the impact of acidic drinks on teeth:
1) Dilute drinks like fruit juices, especially for children
2) Use a straw or drinking bottle with built-in straw to reduce direct contact with teeth
3) Drink a glass of milk or water immediately after, to help counteract the acid.
Can’t I just clean my teeth straight after?
Not necessarily! If you’ve consumed something acidic, cleaning your teeth straight away is just about the worst thing you can do because the enamel will have been softened, meaning you could be doing more harm than good.
Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth after consuming anything acidic. However, after consuming anything sugary, it’s a good idea to clean your teeth as soon as possible, to stop the bacteria attacking the sugar left on your teeth.