What is Dental Erosion?
Most people know that bacteria in the mouth can cause tooth decay if they are not removed with regular brushing and flossing. This is because bacteria produced acidic waste products that damage the outer layer of the tooth over time. Eventually this damage leads to the formation of a dental cavity and can eventually lead to a pulp infection if the bacteria reach the pulp layer.
Acids damage enamel through a process called demineralization. Enamel is composed of 96% minerals arranged in a molecular crystalline structure. When acids are present, they are able to break down this structure and release the minerals from the enamel. This causes the tooth to lose the very minerals that give it its strength. The result is thinner enamel that is more susceptible to damage and decay.
Even though bacteria are the primary way that tooth enamel can become damaged, there are other things that can damage enamel as well. Dental erosion is the term used to describe the wearing down of enamel caused by factors besides bacteria. Dental erosion can be caused by one or more of the following:
There are a variety of foods and beverages that contain different types and concentrations of acids. When consumed, these foods and beverages increase the overall acid concentration throughout the mouth. While enamel can recover from a certain amount of acidic foods and beverages, excessive amounts of acid can result in damage over time. Therefore, it is important to regulate the amount of acidic foods and beverages one consumes.
Stomach acid is extremely acidic and causes various problems when it leaves the confines of the stomach. Therefore, people who have acid reflux conditions such as GERD or people who have medical conditions that cause frequent vomiting, are at an increased risk for enamel erosion. This is because their teeth are regularly exposed to harsh stomach acids.
Dry mouth is a common side effect of many medications, as well as a possible result of certain medical conditions. Regardless of its cause, dry mouth can have implications on your oral health since saliva is a necessary part of your mouth’s natural defense. In regards to acid, saliva functions to regulate acid levels and allow for remineralization of tooth enamel. However, these processes are interrupted when there is not enough saliva present. Therefore, a lack of saliva can amplify the damaging effects of acid.
Bruxism is a dental term used to describe the negative habit of teeth grinding or clenching. Both of these behaviors cause enamel damage due to the fact that the opposing teeth are regularly rubbing against each other. Depending on the severity of the condition, bruxism can cause enamel to wear prematurely and can eventually expose the underlying dentin. Not only that, but enamel weakened by bruxism can be eroded easier by acid.
Overall, dental erosion is a damaging process brought on by dietary and stomach acids, and is exasperated by factors such as dry mouth and bruxism. Due to the highly mineralized composition of tooth enamel, it is unfortunately able to be easily demineralized when exposed to these acids. While some acid exposure is fine, excessive amounts of acid or continual acid exposure will eventually cause the enamel to erode permanently.
Dr. Scott T. Simpson graduated from the University of Florida College of Dentistry while participating in the Health Profession Scholarship Program through the United States Air Force. Following graduation, Dr. Simpson served three memorable years in the USAF at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana. He then practiced for nine years in the Orlando area before moving to the beautiful city of Tigard and starting Appletree Dentistry.