Tooth Erosion – Causes and Prevention

Explore the causes and prevention of tooth erosion in this comprehensive guide by Fort Washington Dental Associates. Understand the impact of acidity on enamel and learn practical strategies to protect your smile.
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Certain types of erosion are beautiful. The Grand Canyon, for example, was formed by centuries of erosion. 

Dental erosion, however, is a different story. Not only is the erosion of a tooth’s enamel permanent, but it can happen in a much shorter timeframe.

One of the keys to a beautiful and healthy smile for life is preventing enamel loss caused by dental erosion.

Dental Erosion

Dental erosion is the chemical dissolving of tooth structure by acid in the mouth.

Enamel is made of crystallized minerals. Much like a rock can be eroded by a constant flow of water, dental enamel erosion happens when your mouth has constant exposure to an acidic environment.

Things To Know About Dental Enamel

Think of enamel as a smooth protective coating on your teeth. It’s the part of your teeth that shows when you smile. 

Dental enamel is the hardest substance in the human body and is strong enough to last you a lifetime. 

Even though it’s the hardest tissue in your body, some things cause damage and destruction to your tooth enamel. 

The top three enamel destroyers:

  1. Cavities (dental caries)
  2. Trauma (chipped or broken teeth)
  3. Dental erosion (tooth enamel erosion)

Keep reading to learn what causes dental erosion and how to prevent it.

Acidity and the pH of Your Mouth

We mentioned that dental erosion is caused by acid in the mouth, but you might be wondering what makes your mouth acidic.

Every time you eat or drink anything besides water, you have an acid attack happening in your mouth.

Some foods are worse than others. Sugary snacks and acidic beverages are the worst for creating an acidic environment in your mouth.

Aside from food and drink, certain medical conditions can also produce an acidic environment and harm your oral health. 

Digestive disorders like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux disease, and eating disorders can cause erosive tooth wear.

Under Acid Attack – What To Do

Understanding the acidity of your mouth will help you take simple steps to improve the care of your teeth.

Let’s start with a quick chemistry lesson. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test!

Think back to your high school chemistry class. Remember learning about pH? The pH tells us whether a substance is acidic or basic.

The pH scale goes from 0 to 14. 

A pH below 7 is acidic. Lemon juice, for example, is acidic with a pH of 2.

A pH of 7 is neutral (neither acidic nor basic). Water has a neutral pH of 7.

A pH above 7 is basic. Bleach is basic with a pH between 11 and 13.

Human saliva has a pH of around 7, so it’s naturally neutral.

The breakdown of tooth enamel happens when the pH drops to 5 or lower.

Understanding pH is important because every time you eat or drink something other than water, your mouth’s pH drops below 7.

Your saliva has the job of bringing the pH of your mouth back to neutral after eating and drinking.

If you stick to eating only during mealtimes, these short bouts of an acidic environment don’t generally cause a problem. Your saliva neutralizes your mouth between meals and maintains a balanced pH. 

Snacking continuously throughout the day, though, your saliva doesn’t have a chance to rebalance the pH in your mouth and you end up with a continuous acid bath – which is a big dental problem. 

Some foods and drinks cause the acidic environment to last longer in your mouth than other foods. For example, when you drink a soda (pH of 3), your mouth pH stays acidic for longer than when you drink milk (pH of 6.8).

Suppose you’re snacking on foods and drinks that are especially acidic. In that case, your saliva isn’t enough of a buffer to prevent damage from the constant acidic environment – putting your teeth at risk for erosion.

It takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour for your saliva to return your mouth to a neutral pH after you eat. So if you’re snacking on candy or sipping on a soda throughout the day, your mouth is in a constant state of acid attack.

Acidic foods and drinks that cause dental erosion:

  • Sour or sticky candy
  • Citrus fruits
  • Soft drinks or sugary drinks
  • Sports drinks or energy drinks
  • Fruit juices

Other Causes of Tooth Enamel Erosion

What if you eat a healthy diet, and don’t snack often, but still are told you have acid erosion on your teeth? The culprit could be stomach acid. Acid reflux can wreak havoc on your teeth the same way acidic drinks can. 

You might feel the burn of acid reflux, or GERD, in your chest and throat, but what you don’t feel is the damage that’s happening to your teeth. 

Chronic acid reflux will cause cupping of the enamel that looks like tiny potholes on the chewing surfaces of your teeth – most commonly this occurs on your farthest back teeth, the molars. 

Common medical causes of dental erosion:

  • Gastric reflux or GERD
  • Eating disorder
  • Chronic dry mouth (xerostomia)

GERD Tooth Erosion

If you suffer from acid reflux, your dentist might see signs of enamel erosion during your regular visits.

You might experience having sensitive teeth – especially along the gum line.

More likely, your dental professional will show you a photo of little scooped-out areas on the chewing surfaces of your back teeth.

Erosion Caused By An Eating Disorder

Bulimia or frequent vomiting can cause permanent damage to teeth.

Stomach acid dissolves away the enamel from the back side of the upper front teeth.

In severe cases, all of the enamel can be stripped away, exposing the underlying layer of the tooth called dentin.

Chronic Dry Mouth Makes Dental Erosion Worse

If you haven’t realized yet, saliva is essential for dental health.

Certain medical problems and prescription medications can cause a decrease in saliva production, creating a chronically dry mouth. If you’ve ever experienced dry mouth, or “cotton mouth,” you know how uncomfortable it is.

Saliva is responsible for maintaining the neutral pH of the mouth, and it also helps keep your teeth clean when you’re eating. When there isn’t a sufficient supply of saliva, further damage to teeth occurs.

Sticky and starchy foods adhere to the tooth surface more easily and for longer in a dry mouth, which feeds oral bacteria and keeps the pH low for longer.

Oral Bacteria Produce Acid

Oral bacteria that make up dental plaque are also responsible for acid attacks on your teeth.

However, when the bacteria in plaque produce acid, it can cause dental decay (cavities), not dental erosion.

How To Prevent Tooth Enamel Erosion

Nobody wants to let their teeth dissolve away over time.

To prevent erosion, limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks. When you do indulge, drink water right after to help neutralize your mouth.

Remember you want to keep a neutral pH in your mouth and both water and saliva have a neutral pH of around 7.

Use fluoride gel, toothpaste, or mouth rinse. Fluoride helps to strengthen enamel against acid erosion.

If you want to use products without fluoride, then go for toothpaste or tooth gel containing the ingredient nano-hydroxyapatite.

Nano-hydroxyapatite is what your natural tooth enamel is made from. Studies have shown that daily use helps remineralize tooth enamel when applied topically.

Fluoride treatments at the dentist also help to strengthen enamel.

Tips For Home Care That Might Surprise You

Don’t brush your teeth right after eating. Instead of brushing right after eating, rinse your mouth with water. Wait at least twenty minutes after eating to brush your teeth. Why? Right after eating, your mouth is still in an acidic environment. Using a toothbrush to brush the acids around your teeth can worsen the erosion.

Always use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Bristles that are medium or hard are more likely to cause gum recession and damage the root surfaces of your teeth. It’s common for people to feel like a hard-bristled toothbrush is doing a better job, but it’s actually causing unnecessary damage!

Check the pH of your mouth rinse. You can quickly search online for the pH of your favorite mouth rinse. You might be surprised to learn that a lot of the common brands have a pH of under 5 – that’s acidic!

Look for a mouth rinse with a pH of 7 or higher. Neutral mouthwashes we recommend:

  • ACT
  • Cari Free CTX3
  • TheraBreath 
  • Closys
  • ProFresh

What is the Treatment for Dental Erosion?

Loss of tooth structure from acid erosion is permanent. 

If you have lost tooth structure due to dental erosion, don’t worry. Your dentist can restore damaged teeth with a filling, crown, or veneer. 

Regular dental checkups will help catch dental erosion in its early stages and provide the opportunity to learn about the best way to prevent further damage.

Learn more about how we restore teeth using veneersfillings, and crowns.

Call us to schedule an appointment today! 


We look forward to serving you!

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Iliana Cepero
Iliana Cepero
23:13 16 Jan 24
Dr. Lee was incredibly kind, clear, and thorough when I went for a consultation. Doctors who spend time explaining things to a patient and giving them the best and most affordable options do not abound these days. He is very smart too. Strongly recommended!
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