What is Dental Erosion?
Most people are familiar with the fact that tooth decay and gum disease can negatively affect their oral health. However, did you know that your oral health can also be affected by dental erosion? Dental erosion is the process by which tooth enamel gradually wears down and becomes thinner. Since tooth enamel is the primary defense for your teeth, your oral health can become compromised as soon as your enamel is.
In order to understand the problem of enamel erosion, we must first take a look at tooth enamel. Tooth enamel is composed of 96% minerals and is the strongest substance in the human body. At a molecular level, the calcium and phosphorus that make up enamel are arranged in a crystalline pattern known as hydroxyapatite. Enamel’s high concentration of minerals combined with its molecular structure is what gives it its strength. Despite this, it can still become damaged like any other structure in the body.
One common way that enamel can become damaged is through a process called demineralization. Demineralization refers to the breakdown of enamel’s highly mineralized molecular structure. This process is caused by acid and is often referred to as dental erosion. In the early stages, erosion is often not noticeable to anyone other than a dentist. In some cases, it can cause tooth sensitivity, discoloration, or indents on the surface of the tooth.
While the primary cause of demineralization are acidic waste products that come from decay-causing bacteria, there are other acids that can demineralization. In fact, the term dental erosion refers specifically to demineralization that is caused by acid that is not produced by bacteria. Instead, dental erosion is caused by:
Everything we eat or drink passes through our mouth. This means that when we consume foods or beverages with excess acids, our tooth enamel is also exposed to these acids. Not to mention, an acidic diet can increase the overall acidity throughout the mouth. By limiting the amount of acidic foods and beverages such as rhubarb, apples, berries, citrus fruits and juices, and soda, you can help decrease the risk of dental erosion.
Acid Reflux Conditions
Individuals with acid reflux conditions have the unfortunate experience of dealing with stomach acid that works its way up their esophagus. This causes the saliva to become more acidic, which then exposes the enamel to more acid. The regular exposure to stomach acid will eventually erode the teeth. This can also happen in cases where an individual frequently vomits.
Xerostomia, or dry mouth is a medical condition where there is a reduced production of saliva. It usually occurs as a side effect of medication, however it can also be brought on by other medical conditions. Although dry mouth does not directly cause erosion, it can contribute to the problem. This is because saliva is used to neutralize acid and remineralize the enamel, therefore reduced saliva hinders these processes.
Overall dental erosion is the gradual weakening of tooth enamel as a result of acids not produced by bacteria. In most cases, the acids can be supplied by diet, but can also be the result of acid reflux conditions or the inability to produce enough saliva. Over time, dental erosion can lead to the formation of dental cavities, as well as general damage to the tooth.
Dr. Speer prides himself on excellence in all aspects of dentistry. He stays up to date on the latest technologies by attending various continuing education courses throughout the year. He also enjoys volunteering his time and expertise at events, such as Portland Mission of Mercy. He is a member of the Clackamas County Dental Society, Oregon Dental Association, the American Dental Association, and the Academy of General Dentistry. He is also the former President of the Oregon Chapter of Delta Sigma Delta, an international Dental Fraternity.