Whether from a dentist lecturing about the importance of maintaining your oral health or from a parent warning that too much candy will rot your teeth, most people have repeatedly heard about the importance of brushing and flossing daily since childhood. However, just because you know about the importance of brushing doesn’t mean you know why you need to brush.
The Dangers of Tooth Erosion
The strongest substance produced by the body, tooth enamel, covers your teeth, allowing you to munch and crunch without worry. While tooth enamel can resist an excessive amount of wear, the substance can become worn down and damaged by bacteria in the mouth known as plaque.
A sticky biofilm comprised of bacteria and lingering food particles, plaque thrives off of the sugars you consume to produce acids that slowly eat away at tooth enamel. Over time, tiny grooves and pits begin to form in your teeth’s enamel where bacteria can begin to accumulate. Once inside these hard to reach areas, brushing can no longer remove bacteria from your teeth, which leads to the development of tooth cavities and decay.
When left on your teeth for longer than 72 hours, plaque transform into tartar, a hardened bacteria that makes cleaning your teeth more difficult and can cause gum disease. Once plaque has become tartar, only a dentist can remove it from your teeth.
Causes of Enamel Erosion
A variety of factors can contribute to enamel erosion, including:
- Failing to brush and floss daily. Neglecting your oral hygiene allows plaque to build up in the mouth. The more plaque that’s present when you eat, the more damaging acids the bacteria creates. This leads to more enamel erosion and quicker decay.
- Consuming too many soft drinks. Nothing damages tooth enamel like carbonated soft drinks. These types of beverages contain several types of acids that weaken tooth enamel, making them more susceptible to plaque acids and decay. Carbonate beverages also increase the acidity levels in the mouth, which does even further damage to the health of your teeth. If you consume three or four soft drinks a day, you’re placing the health of your teeth in serious jeopardy.
- Dry mouth. As the name would suggest, dry mouth is a condition that causes the body to produce less saliva. Normally, saliva neutralizes harmful plaque acids, while also helping to wash away lingering food particles. However, when the body starts to produce less saliva, plaque acids and food particles are allowed to remain on your teeth, leading to an increase in decay.
- Acid reflux. A condition that causes stomach acid to travel up the esophagus and into the mouth where it damages tooth enamel, acid reflux can cause long-term damage to your teeth’s enamel.
- Teeth Grinding. Clinically referred to as bruxism, teeth grinding places additional strain on your teeth, eventually causing the enamel to erode away. Often an unconscious habit, teeth grinding can be treated through stress reduction techniques and by wearing a mouth guard at night.
How to Protect Your Teeth
By practicing quality oral hygiene, you can help reduce enamel erosion. However, by following some of these tips, you can further prevent decay.
- Reduce the number of carbonated soft drinks to consume daily. When you do consume them, use a straw so your front teeth avoid exposure to the liquids.
- Rinse your mouth with water after consuming highly acidic foods, such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, or bananas. The acids these foods contain also weaken tooth enamel.
- Complete a meal by eating a slice of cheese or by drinking a glass of milk. Both practices will help to neutralize any acid in the mouth.
- Chew sugar-free gum after every meal. Chewing gum helps to increase saliva flow in the mouth, which then neutralizes plaque acids and washes away lingering food particles.
- Drink eight to ten cups of water a day. Drinking plenty of water will help to keep your mouth moist and clean.
- Use a mouthwash after brushing. Plaque can buildup in places hard to reach with a toothbrush. By using a mouthwash after brushing, you can eliminate plaque deposits in the mouth you may have missed.
- Schedule regular appointments with your dentist. During routine cleanings, your dentist can remove built up tartar from your teeth, while also checking for any signs of tooth decay or gum disease.
A freelance writer, Timothy Lemke blogs about keeping your teeth healthy and strong for Dr. Timothy Harbolt, a Salem, OR dentist at Smiles Dental.