What is tooth enamel and how does it erode?
It’s not uncommon to hear about certain foods and drinks being bad for your teeth, but what exactly is this coating that needs to be protected so carefully? Enamel is the highly mineralized outermost tissue that covers the tooth’s crown. It’s color can vary in degrees of white, depending on the color of a person’s dentin tissue sitting directly underneath. The mineral that mostly comprises enamel is called hydroxyapatite, making it the hardest material in the human body.
Acids that are allowed to sit on the surface of your teeth begin the process of enamel erosion. Once the enamel is completely eroded, the damage is irreversible, and this is why it’s so important to identify the erosion at the beginning stage. When the enamel begins to wear away and the dentin is not completely protected, extreme pain will occur. This erosion allows decay to set in, causing cavities and even worse, severe infections. If you notice any of these symptoms, there is a good chance erosion has begun to take its course:
- intense pain and sensitivity
- “cupping” (small indentations on the tooth’s surface)
- cracks or chips on your teeth
Because enamel tissue is not a living organism, the first stages of erosion typically go undetected. The telltale sign is small white spots that start to form, and if you notice this, treatment to avoid further damage is recommended.
What are the top foods and drinks that cause enamel erosion?
As is the case for most dental issues stemming from diet, acid is the main culprit in the breakdown of enamel and can come either directly from what you are consuming, or start out as sugar and then convert into acid by bacteria in your mouth. Some foods and drinks are definitely more damaging than others and should be consumed alongside a low pH food or water to neutralize the bad bacteria. Some of these may include:
- Coffee and alcohol
- Sports drinks
- Soft drinks
- Citrus juices and fruits
- Pickled foods
- Sour, chewy, or hard candy
- Energy drinks
- Refined carbohydrates
Although it’s definitely not recommended to eliminate all foods that have high pH levels, as citrus, for example, provides many essential nutrients, the key is to not consume highly acidic foods in excess.
What steps can I take to reduce acidity in my mouth?
When you do eat foods that are highly acidic, try to eat them alongside low pH foods that actually protect and build up your enamel. These foods include but are not limited to: bananas, whole grains, cheese, eggs, vegetables, and lean meat.
Some other steps that aid in reducing acid include:
- Rinsing with water (avoid brushing right after consumption as the enamel is still soft from the acid)
- Use a mouthwash that contains fluoride
- Chew sugar-free gum to encourage saliva production that balances pH levels
- Brush twice and day, everyday
- Floss once a day
Protecting the enamel on your teeth is one of the most important things you can do for oral health. Because the tissue does not grow back once eroded, it’s crucial to take the right steps at the very beginning to avoid serious dental issues down the road. As always, maintain your regular visits with your dentist to remove plaque build-up and check for early signs of erosion. We all want a beautiful smile, and protecting your tooth enamel is the best way to guard against discoloration that hinders you from showing off your pearly whites!