I hear the phrase “I have sensitive teeth” every single day of my life. If you’ve ever said this, your sensitive teeth may be the reason you’ve always been afraid to go to the dentist and they may be the reason you you’re reluctant to eat hot or cold foods. They might be the reason you don’t like opening your mouth to show your smile, and they might prevent you from enjoying the best thing in life: ice cream. Many of you might even have severe tooth wear – worn cusps, flattened teeth, yellow color from enamel loss, and chipped enamel at the base of the tooth by the gums. These problems were traditionally explained entirely as a grinding problem, but we’ve learned over recent years that acid erosion is a big factor in the process as well. A new study published in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry last month suggests that acid erosion is an even bigger factor than we previously thought in your sensitive, worn teeth. In fact, it is the biggest factor of all and soft drinks are the main reason why this is so.
Before we get to the study, consider an analogy from geology: the concept of erosion. In geology, erosion is the slow destruction or diminution of something (dirt, rock, clay, etc.) by wind, water, and other natural forces. It’s not a quick process, but it’s ultimately a very powerful process whereby amazing things are accomplished. For example, Utah’s iconic “Delicate Arch” is a huge sandstone arch structure measuring 65 feet high. Once upon a time it was a solid rock of sandstone, but wind and water beat against it over time and eroded it into what it is today. In dentistry we have our own concept of erosion and it’s basically the same thing as geologic erosion, only wind and water are replaced by much harsher agents such as your hard-bristled toothbrush, Diet Coke, Gatorade, and your nighttime gnashing habits. If you’re impressed by what weather has created in Arches National Park, you should see how quickly teeth are destroyed by these things.
The study I mentioned above followed nearly 4000 participants and found that 79% of participants had some evidence of dental erosion (that’ a lot more that I would have guessed!). 64% had mild tooth wear, 10% had moderate tooth wear, and 5% had severe tooth wear. In all cases, the subjects with moderate and severe tooth wear consumed significantly more soft drinks and fruit juices than the subjects with no tooth wear or only mild tooth wear. This study confirms thinking from similar studies, and at this point the evidence is clear: acidic beverages are killing our teeth. If one consumes acidic beverages frequently and has other eroding habits like night grinding or brushing too aggressively, the eroding process is intensified significantly.
Here are some pearls to help protect your teeth from the erosion process:
- Milk and water are the best choices you can make for your overall health and also your teeth. Fruit juices are nutritious for you, but they can be awfully hard on your teeth because of acidity and high sugar content.
- Frequency is more important than quantity in tooth health. If you must have your Diet Coke, try to reduce the number of times per day that you’re exposing your teeth to acidic things. You’ll do far more damage if you sip on that Coke over the course of a couple hours than if you just drink it quickly.
- Rinse with water after consuming sugary or acidic foods. You can’t always get to a toothbrush and floss, but a little rinse with water goes a long way.
- Never give babies or children a sippy cup or bottle of fruit juice when they go down to sleep. In fact, don’t give them anything but water. Baby bottle cavities are one of the saddest things I see in our dental office.
- Use a soft bristle brush. Medium and hard bristles are too hard on enamel.
- If you’re a pregnant woman and you deal with morning sickness, rinse your mouth thoroughly with water (or even better, water with some baking soda) after vomiting. Wait about 30 minutes before brushing so you’re not doing damage in a highly acidic environment with your toothbrush.
- If you struggle with acid erosion or drink a lot of soft drinks, consider switching your toothpaste to Pronamel. I am not paid by Pronamel to promote their product, but it’s the best thing I’ve found to counteract the damaging process of tooth erosion. It’s really a fantastic product and it’s great for sensitive teeth too. https://www.pronamel.us/
Be kind to your teeth. If you struggle with sensitive or worn teeth and want to discuss options on restoring them or feeling more comfortable, call our office today and let’s find a time to chat.
-Nicolas K. Young, DMD