Tooth erosion is when the enamel — the protective coating of the teeth — gets worn away over time by the consumption of carbonated and acidic beverages or acidic foods. It is preventable by adjusting your diet and maintaining a healthy daily regimen of brushing, flossing and rinsing.

How Can You Identify Tooth Erosion?

The symptoms for tooth erosion include:

  • Extra tooth sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Rough tooth surface, due to the lack of smooth enamel. Teeth can sometimes even turn jagged, transparent or cracked at the edges.
  • Higher instances of tooth decay

What Causes Teeth to Erode?

If you think of erosion, you might generally think of soil or earth erosion. The Grand Canyon, for instance, was formed by billions of years of erosion of the earth by the Colorado River. Our own personal Grand Canyons — our mouths — do not have billions of years on the earth, and the normal presence of saliva wears down our teeth only gradually over the course of our lives, and, in fact, minerals contained in saliva also help protect the enamel. But in recent decades, the increased consumption of acidic (low pH) sodas and fruit drinks has led to increased instances of tooth erosion, especially in people who start drinking these beverages from a young age. Generally your saliva balances out the pH in your mouth and helps strengthen the enamel softened by an acid, but the constant consumption of drinks can overwhelm the saliva’s ability to prevent erosion.

Who Is Most Likely to Suffer From Tooth Erosion?

It used to be somewhat exclusive to older people, but as carbonated soft drinks and fruit drinks have increased in popularity and consumption among the young, it is affecting people earlier in life as the acid is getting an earlier start on people’s teeth, thus more years to work its dark magic. Coffee and wine can also be contributing factors. Anyone with stomach issues that cause regular vomiting is also at risk, since the stomach acids travel out through the mouth. For this reason, tooth erosion can also be a warning sign of bulimia.

What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Tooth Erosion?

First, reduction of acidic carbonated sodas, including diet versions. If you do consume a lot of soda, rinse the mouth out with water when you get the chance throughout the day and do not hold soda in the mouth or swish it around; that is, try to reduce the time for acid to go to work on your teeth. There are many acidic foods, such as pickles, citrus fruits and tomatoes, so the key is keeping up your dental regimen of brushing and flossing, especially before bedtime. Do not allow acid the whole night to damage your teeth. Chewing sugarless gum and using baking soda toothpaste are also recommended for helping saliva to dilute the acid after a meal. Talk to your dentist about a diet and regimen that works for you.

What Tooth Erosion Is Not

Tooth erosion is not generally caused by brushing your teeth too vigorously. Brushing too hard usually leads to receding gums and erosion of the gums that exposes the bottom of the teeth. Tooth erosion is more specifically the chemical wearing away of teeth. That said, if your enamel is wearing away, brushing too aggressively or with too hard a brush can increase tooth sensitivity. A soft brush is the best way to go for protecting sensitive teeth and gums.

How Is Tooth Erosion Treated?

Loss of enamel is irreversible. Your teeth do not make new enamel, so those with severe tooth erosion will likely be treated for cavities, as the lack of enamel allows bacteria into the dentin. Severe cases can be treated with crowns and/or bonding. The key is prevention of further erosion, treated by adjusting the diet and diligently maintaining a brushing, flossing and rinsing routine as prescribed by your dentist.