The way we brush and the foods we eat can really impact our oral health. We all know that excess sweets and poor hygiene can lead to tooth decay. However, it is also very important to consider not just the amount of sweet things we consume but the frequency and exposure time of certain acidic foods and drinks. During dental exams I often see four common reasons for loss of enamel and sensitivity; decay, acid erosion, toothbrush abrasion and grinding.
When foods containing sugars or starches are eaten, bacteria in the mouth (in plaque) feed on the foods we eat producing acidic by-products which can weaken tooth enamel. Over time if the food source for bacteria is not cleaned this can cause susceptible enamel to break down and a cavity to form, which may require a filling. The way we combat this is by reducing the amount of food residue that can build up in our mouth i.e., rinsing after meals, daily brushing, routine hygiene visits to remove hardened plaque we may miss with regular brushing, and sealing susceptible enamel pits and grooves in children.
Acid Erosion is the early wear of teeth caused by acid softening of the surface of the tooth’s enamel. On the pH scale pure water has a pH very close to 7(considered neutral) while acidic solutions have a pH much less than 7. The lower the pH, the more acidic content a food or drink has. Pure water and saliva are more neutral solutions and therefore saliva has the benefit of neutralizing our mouths, protecting us from acid erosion. However, because the tooth’s recovery process is slow, if the acid attack happens frequently, the tooth does not have a chance to repair. Furthermore, if one has poor saliva production this protective mechanism may not be effective at all.
If you tend to snack or sip frequently on acidic foods and drinks you could potentially suffer from enamel erosion. With frequent exposure to acidic foods or drinks the mouth will remain acidic for a prolonged period of time not giving saliva a chance to repair. I see this commonly in children using sippy- cups or bottles drinking juice several times a day. Adults, who tend to drink a soda or energy drink over a longer time, use hard mints/candies throughout the day, consume lemons or limes daily, or who have acid reflux can also suffer increased levels of oral acidity and erosion.
Tooth Brush Abrasion
How we brush can lead to premature wear of our teeth as well. It is very common to see worn enamel near the gum-line of patients who brush very hard. If we disrupt the accumulation of plaque daily with the right brushing technique we don’t have to brush extra hard to remove bacteria. A soft brush and sweeping circular motions will remove food that tends to get trapped between teeth and along the gum line. It is important to remember we can’t achieve much whitening from tooth brushing alone. The main benefit of brushing is the mechanical removal of plaque and food residue. Stains are better removed by whitening agents instead of a hard brush stroke.
Another factor that can lead to enamel loss would be wear from excessive grinding or imbalances in someone’s bite. This is treated with a prescription from your dentist for a custom mouth guard or adjustments to one’s bite. It’s important to remember that although our enamel is susceptible to such factors, luckily most of this is preventable and not caused by a genetic factor we have no control over. During your dental visit we will be happy to discuss dietary, oral hygiene and toothbrush suggestions that will help you maintain a happy smile and strong healthy enamel!