• What is Dental Erosion?

    What is Dental Erosion?

    Your teeth are covered by enamel.  Tooth enamel is the visible, outermost covering of your teeth.  It’s the hardest substance in the human body and contains a high percentage of minerals.  As your teeth are exposed to acidic food or liquids over time, enamel can be lost.  This is called dental erosion.

    Three common sources of acids associated with dental erosion include: acidic food and drinks, acid reflux, and vomiting.

    Acidic Food and Drink.  Nutritious, acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits can have some acidic effects on tooth enamel.  They should be eaten in moderation and as part of a meal, not by themselves.  Dried fruits, including raisins, can also cause problems because they are sticky and adhere to teeth, so the acids produced by cavity-causing bacteria continue to harm teeth long after you stop eating them.

    Still, the major erosion culprit is soft drinks, especially soda and sports drinks.  Even if they are sugar-free, they are more likely to be acidic thanks to carbonation.  That bubbly fizz raises the acid level of any drink, regardless of its flavor.

    Acid in beverages can also come from citrus flavorings such as lemon, lime and orange.  Even all-natural beverages like orange juice or fresh-squeezed lemonade are higher in acid than regular water, so make them an occasional treat instead of a daily habit.

    Speaking of treats, some sour candies are almost as acidic as battery acid, and many use citric acids to get the desired effect.  If you like a little sour with your sweet tooth, please enjoy it in moderation. (1)

    Acid Reflux. Your stomach produces natural acids that help your body digest food.  Sometimes, these acids travel up the throat and into the mouth, especially after a large meal.  Ordinarily, our saliva balances the acid levels in our mouth and everything’s fine.  For those who suffer from acid reflux, gastric acids reach the mouth throughout the day.  This process is especially damaging when you’re asleep, since you are swallowing less often and your mouth is producing less saliva.

    Another concern is the dry mouth caused by many acid reflux medicines.  Saliva not only helps neutralize the acids caused by acid reflux, but also helps to wash away food particles and reduce bacteria that attack tooth enamel.  This is why lower saliva production may increase your risk for cavities. (2)

    Vomiting. Repeated vomiting over a period can put you at risk for dental erosion.

    The signs of enamel erosion can vary, depending on the stage.  Two things you can look for are tooth appearance and tooth pain.

    Tooth Appearance

    • Discoloration.  As the enamel erodes and more dentin is exposed, the teeth may appear yellow.
    • Cracks and Chips.  The edges of teeth become more rough, irregular and jagged as enamel erodes.
    • Indentations may appear on the surface of the teeth.


    Tooth Pain

    • Sensitivity.  Certain foods (sweets) and temperatures of foods (hot or cold) may cause a twinge of pain in the early stage of enamel erosion.
    • Severe Sensitivity.  In later stages of enamel erosion, teeth become extremely sensitive to temperatures and sweets.


    Unfortunately, once enamel is lost, it can not be replaced, but you can take steps to prevent or stop dental erosion. (3)

    • Drink water or milk while eating
    • Avoid eating or drinking acidic foods and beverages
    • Rinse mouth after vomiting
    • Wait at least 1 hour before brushing your teeth after vomiting, eating acidic food or drinking acidic beverages
    • Chewing sugar-free gum can increase saliva flow, which helps remove acid
    • Use a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste when you brush your teeth


    If you think you are at risk for developing dental erosion or are experiencing symptoms, talk to your dentist at your next routine check-up.

    (1) Acidic Food

    (2) Acid Reflux

    (3) Journal of the American Dental Association

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