Have you ever experienced a jolt of pain when you ate ice cream or sipped hot tea? If so, you may have some level of enamel erosion. A tooth's outermost covering is called enamel. This translucent layer is thin but extremely strong. In fact, it's the hardest tissue in the human body [source: WebMD].
Enamel acts as a protective shell for your teeth. It guards against everyday wear that your teeth endure, like chewing, grinding and biting. It also fortifies your teeth from temperatures or chemicals that can be painful [source: WebMD].
Even though enamel is tough, it can crack, chip or wear away. It contains no living cells, which means it can't repair itself, so once it's gone, the damage is permanent. Teeth can corrode when this protective panel wears down [source: WebMD].
Typically, the more sensitive your teeth are, the more enamel is gone. Enamel erosion is caused by exposure to acids or physical friction that literally rub away your teeth's protective covering. Although genetics can be to blame for weak enamel or conditions that exacerbate erosion -- like acid reflux disease or simply having a dry mouth -- there are actions you can take to protect the enamel you have and prevent more from being worn away.
You may not be able to restore it, but there are easy steps you can take to protect and care for your teeth once your enamel has started to wear.
Read the next page learn why having a dry mouth can be disastrous for your teeth.
Xerostomia, or chronic dry mouth, is a medical condition that can pose problems for your mouth as a whole, and your tooth enamel specifically. Saliva contains minerals such as calcium and phosphate, which maintain and protect your teeth's enamel, but whenever you have a dry mouth, your spit levels are low (hence the "dry" in dry mouth). Therefore, when your mouth has less saliva, your enamel and teeth are more vulnerable than when you have a normal mouthful of spit [source: ADA].
But regardless if you have xerostomia, your mouth is naturally dry or you're on medication that causes the condition, there is hope. All you need to do to increase your mouth's production of saliva is chew. Chew your food more thoroughly while eating and lightly snack or chew gum between meals. If you want to really increase the amount of spit in your mouth, munch on a chewy food that you really enjoy. Taste and consistency play a large role in the amount of spit your mouth produces [source: ADA].
Most of us know that regular brushing is the best way to prevent oral health problems. It scrubs away acids, plaque and other substances that can eat away at your enamel and damage your teeth. If you've just been swimming, however, brushing can also remove your enamel.
Swimming probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of dangerous activities for your tooth enamel. However, a recent study found that chlorine had damaged the teeth of 66 percent of a test group of 500 regular swimmers [source: Elkins].
Most pools use chlorine to kill harmful bacteria in the water, but this chemical also happens to be highly acidic. In fact, not only can chlorine eat away at the enamel on your teeth, it can also temporally soften the enamel it doesn't destroy. What this means is that besides swimming with your mouth closed, you need to make sure you avoid the toothbrush after you take a dip. Because your enamel has been softened by chlorine's acids, you could actually tear it away if you brush your teeth immediately after leaving the pool. Therefore, make sure you wait at least an hour before scrubbing your pearly whites [source: Elkins].
Sodas and fruit juices may taste great, but they're not good for your teeth. Both types of beverages contain a plethora of acids, some of which are more corrosive to your enamel than battery acid [sources: WebMD, Live Science]. Excessive consumption of soda or fruit juice can do serious damage to your enamel, especially if it's already worn. Therefore, consume these drinks in moderation, and rinse your mouth with water immediately afterward.
However, to be fair, the two types of beverages aren't equally bad for your teeth. Soft drinks contain ample amounts of citric or phosphoric acids, and one study determined that soda is 10 times more erosive than fruit juice. However, fruit juice erodes teeth more effectively than soda [source: Live Science]. Therefore, if your enamel is worn (or you don't want it to wear), it's probably a good idea to stay away from both types of drinks.
Sodas, fruit juices and many other drinks are bad for our teeth, but let's be honest. Most of us, even if our enamel has worn, are still going to sip a soda or knock back a glass of OJ from time to time. To limit these tasty drinks' damage to your enamel, use a straw. Because straws cause the liquid to hit the back of your throat and have less contact with your teeth, they help protect your choppers from acidic and sugary beverages.
Foods high in starch (rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, corn) or sugar (cakes, cookies, many fruit cups and cereals, even energy bars) leave your mouth intensely acidic for hours after you've eaten. Since most of us regularly consume starches and sugars, our enamel is often under constant assault. Chewing gum between meals, however, helps you even the odds, as it elevates saliva production, and, as we mentioned earlier, minerals in saliva strengthen enamel. You can further protect your enamel by chewing sugar-free gum with xylitol in it, an ingredient that has been proven to diminish the harmful acids found in food and drinks [source: WebMD].
Although treatment techniques vary by person, the same preventative measures apply to everyone. By taking the simple steps discussed in this article, you can limit additional enamel loss or prevent it from occurring in the first place. Happy brushing!
HowStuffWorks looks at the big diseases that may occur if you have rotting teeth.
More Great Links
- American Dental Association (ADA). "Oral Health Topics: Saliva." 2011. (Sept. 01, 2011) http://www.ada.org/3005.aspx?currentTab=1
- Academy of General Dentistry. "Signs of Tooth Erosion." 2011. (Aug. 26, 2011)
- Better Health Channel. "Teeth and Drug Use." June 22, 2011. (Aug. 26, 2011)
- Dena a. Ali, D.D.S., et al. "Dental Erosion Caused by Silent Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease." The Journal of the American Dental Association. 2002. (Aug. 26, 2011) http://jada.ada.org/content/133/6/734.full
- Elkins, Lucy. "How going for a swim (or drinking herbal tea) could ruin your smile." Daily Mail. Dec. 7, 2010. (Sept. 1, 2011) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1334266/How-going-swim-drinking-herbal-tea-ruin-smile.html
- Magee, Elaine. "Sugar Shockers: Foods Surprisingly High in Sugar." WebMD. 2011. (Sep. 3, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/sugar-shockers-foods-surprisingly-high-in-sugar
- Robin Lloyd. "Acids in Popular Sodas Erode Tooth Enamel." Live Science. March 21, 2007. (Aug. 31, 2011) http://www.livescience.com/7198-acids-popular-sodas-erode-tooth-enamel.html
- WebMD. "Tooth Enamel Erosion and Restoration." 2011. (Aug. 26, 2011)
- WebMD. "Your Teeth and Dental Bonding." 2009. (Aug. 26, 2011)