Protect Your Enamel From the Damaging Effects of Acid
One of your teeth’s best defenses against tooth decay is its hard, outer layer made of a mineral-rich substance known as enamel. This great protector, however, has an enemy — acid — from the foods and drinks we consume as well as the acid byproducts from bacterial plaque. A high acidic level in the mouth could lead to the complete erosion of enamel, leaving teeth more susceptible to tooth decay.
When the acid level in the mouth rises, calcium and other minerals in enamel become soft and begin to slough off, a process called de-mineralization. But the body can reverse this process with the help of saliva, which can neutralize acid. Saliva also contains calcium that can bind to the tooth surface and help replace what was lost during de-mineralization — a process known as re-mineralization. Saliva can normally accomplish this in thirty minutes to an hour after eating.
Unfortunately, saliva’s neutralizing power can be overwhelmed when there is too much acid present. This occurs when we ingest substances like sodas or sports drinks that are high in citric acid. Many of these same beverages also have a high buffering capacity that slows the neutralizing effect of saliva. Ironically, we can also interrupt re-mineralization if we brush our teeth too quickly after eating or drinking something acidic. The enamel has been softened by the acid and when we brush before re-mineralization we can actually brush away some of the enamel.
There are some steps you can take to help this natural process for maintaining a healthy pH balance in the mouth. First, limit your intake of acidic foods and beverages. Drink water for rehydration, or at least acidic beverages enriched with calcium. If you do drink an acidic beverage use a straw to reduce acid contact with teeth, try not to swish it around in your mouth, and try to drink it during mealtime. Finally, wait 30 to 60 minutes before brushing your teeth after eating or drinking something acidic.
Tooth enamel is a key component in maintaining healthy teeth. Protecting this prime defense against decay will pay you dividends for many years to come.
If you would like more information on enamel erosion, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Erosion.”
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