Although the thought of an acid in your mouth is unsettling, 20-to-45-percent of adults in the United States show signs of acid erosion on their teeth.
“The exposure of our teeth to an acid can cause loss of enamel and eventually the dentin or inner layer of the tooth, creating significant problems,” said Paul Boyd, DMD, clinical associate professor, UofL School of Dentistry.
He explains two categories of acid that affect the mouth: extrinsic and intrinsic acids.
The most common extrinsic source of acid comes from food and beverages with a pH of less than 4, where 7 is a neutral pH level. Lemon juice, wines, sport drinks, sodas, oranges, some teas, vinegar, apple juice, tomatoes, cherries and pickles are all examples of food and drink items with high acid.
Other extrinsic acids come from medications such as aspirin, iron tablets and vitamin C supplements. This category also involves occupational exposure for individuals who are battery and ammunition plant workers or frequent swimmers who go to pools where the pH isn’t properly adjusted.
Intrinsic acids originate from gastric fluid in contact with the mouth. Boyd says this can result from gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), bulimia and vomiting associated with pregnancy and alcohol abuse. Gastric fluid has a pH around 1, so its erosive potential is extremely high, he said.
“Signs of dental erosion include dulling and yellowing of the teeth, increased translucency at the ends of the teeth and rounding of the teeth,” Boyd said. “If your teeth have an increase in sensitivity to cold and hot foods and drinks, erosion may be a factor.”
Dr. Boyd’s tips for protecting teeth from erosion:
- Wait 30 minutes before brushing after meals. Tooth enamel is constantly
de-mineralizing after an acid attack and re-mineralizing with the influence of saliva. Brushing too soon impacts the tooth while de-mineralizing and increases the risk of abrading the enamel. And, always use a soft bristle tooth brush.
- Limit warm or hot acidic beverages, which are more erosive than cold acidic beverages.
- Drink through a straw when drinking acidic beverages, and don’t swish.
- Eat and drink acidic food and beverages in one sitting rather than over an extended period of time. Frequency of intake is a factor of erosion.
- Look for toothpastes formulated specifically to fight erosion.
- Make an appointment with a health care provider who can help diagnose and treat sources of acid.
- Schedule a dental check-up. Your dentist can identify tooth erosion and determine its source. Intrinsic acid usually affects the inside and biting surfaces of the teeth whereas extrinsic sources initially are localized on the outside surfaces of the teeth.
“If you suspect that dental erosion is impacting your oral health, be proactive. Early intervention can save significant time and money — and most of us don’t have an excess of either,” Boyd said.