Tooth enamel is the the hardest, most highly mineralized (hydroxyapatite, a compound of calcium and phosphate) substance in your entire body. White to off-white in appearance, semi-translucent enamel forms the outermost and visible layer of each tooth and while it is partially responsible for the color of your teeth, it is absolutely essential to your overall dental health. One defining characteristic of enamel that is of great concern to many, is that once destroyed, your body cannot repair or replace it because it is not a living tissue. Simply put, once your enamel is gone, it’s gone for good, and that’s a problem.
Side effects of enamel loss include mild to extreme sensitivity, tooth discoloration, and significantly increased risk of fracture and decay. While there is no way to replace the lost enamel, there are thankfully treatments that can be applied by a specialist including dental bonding, crowns, and porcelain veneers in addition to staunch self-care regime that includes complete adherence to oral hygiene best practices along with an uptick in Vitamin D and calcium consumption (as allowed by your physician). But while the are treatments available, wouldn’t it be better to prevent further enamel loss in the first place? By better understanding what destroys tooth enamel, you can keep future erosion at bay.
6 Things You Need to Know (and Avoid) to Prevent Erosion of Your Tooth Enamel
1. Acidic Foods and Beverages
The biggest culprits in enamel erosion are the things you likely consume on a regular basis. Foods and beverages with a high acid content can eat away at your enamel, and should therefore be avoided as much as possible. It’s easy enough to cut acidic beverages out of your diet, but if certain foods cannot be reasonably be avoided, then you must be sure to balance out the impact by consuming plenty of water with them in order to wash away the acidic compounds before they can do damage.
Beverages that can lead to enamel erosion include coffee, white wine, and carbonated drinks such as soda and beer (etc.). These beverages not only erode enamel, they can directly (along with others) discolor your teeth as they leave dentin (which has a yellow tone) exposed.
Foods that are known to negatively impact your hopes of attaining a whiter smile are so because of their enamel eroding properties. Foods to avoid here include acidic produce such as cranberries, oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, tomatoes and even pickles. But your concerns expand beyond the local farmers market. Red meat is also acidic and actually uses sugar as a preservative. It goes without saying that sugar in all forms should be avoided, not because it directly erodes teeth, but because it acts as a catalyst to reactions which ultimately erode enamel. The process is fairly simple. Plaque relies upon sugar to multiply at a rapid rate, covering a larger surface of your teeth and becoming harder to remove with daily brushing. As plaque grows and hardens, lactic acid is produced, and this directly impacts tooth enamel.
Moving forward reassess your diet if concerned about enamel erosion.
2. Grinding Your Teeth
One of the things that lead to cracked or fractured teeth is the act of grinding and/or clenching them. As stated in the introduction above, cracked/fractured teeth are one of the results of tooth enamel erosion. If by habit or by preexisting condition (bruxism) you grind your teeth, you must take the necessary action and/or treatment to put an end the practice, whether or not yours is subconscious.
3. Using Your Teeth to Bite or Chew More Than Food
Also addressed in our article about how to avoid cracked teeth, is the act of using your teeth as tool (to open a bottle cap, tear off a piece of duct tape, etc.) or to gnaw on a hard object (pens, etc.) out of habit. If you find yourself guilty of doing so, place an embargo on the practice starting today.
4. Eating Disorders
Tooth enamel erosion is one of many health concerns related to the eating disorder bulimia. Bulimics vomit (purge) after after binging on food, which causes stomach acid to enter the oral cavity. Frequent purging greatly increases exposure of tooth enamel to acid, which can result in severe erosion.
Anorexia nervosa is also connected to tooth erosion, not just because of the fact that these two illnesses (anorexia and bulimia) can alternate or follow one another, but because anorexia on its own significantly restricts the intake of essential nutrients (including Vitamin D and calcium) that tooth enamel needs to remain strong and healthy.
Of course, these illnesses are beyond the scope of dentistry. If you or a loved one is battling with an eating disorder, we encourage you to use the municipal and provincial recommended services and resources available to you, and seek help right away.
5. Other Health Disorders
There are other health disorders that can result in tooth enamel erosion. For example, dry mouth (or xerostomia) is marked by limited saliva production which does not provide your teeth with the natural defense it needs to wash away acids. Acid reflux is another common disorder which has a direct impact on enamel, while gastrointestinal (GI) tract issues are known to have both direct and indirect impacts on the health of your teeth.
6. Pharmaceuticals and Drugs
There are acidic medicines (OTC and prescribed) such as aspirin or antihistamines that due to their high acid content can erode tooth enamel. Illicit drugs also have a very damaging affect. For instance, methamphetamines and cocaine, which are made of highly acidic ingredients, can destroy tooth enamel within weeks, while MDMA usage causes dry mouth and teeth grinding/clenching. It’s also worth noting that smoking marijuana, which is weeks away from recreational legalization in BC, also induces dry mouth, an aforementioned precursor to tooth enamel erosion.
Like with eating disorders, drug abuse is beyond the scope of dentistry. If you or a loved one is battling with an addiction, we encourage you to use the municipal and provincial recommended services and resources available to you, and seek help right away.
If you are concerned about a loss of tooth enamel and/or want to seek restorative treatment, contact Vancouver Dental Speciality Clinic by calling 604.336.0958 right away, or complete the form found here.