Acid damage (known in the trade as acid erosion) is the damage that happens to teeth as a result of the action of acid on them.
Where does this acid come from?
The acid can come from either of two sources:
- Inside the person – stomach
- Outside the person – food or drink.
What does it do?
The acid ‘corrodes’ the enamel and dentine where it comes in contact with them. This shows as corrosive wear marks on the teeth. Enamel (the outer layer or surface layer of the tooth) ‘corrodes’ with acid at a slower rate than dentine (the layer underneath the enamel). This gives the characteristic ‘wear’ marks associated with acid erosion.
Fractures of the enamel edge are common, making teeth look ‘edgy’. There is seldom any pain although sensitivity to hot and cold may be present. When erosion is rapidly progressive as a result of bulimia, sensitivity can be a major feature.
When acid erosion occurs in conjunction with clenching or grinding, the wear on the teeth can be much more severe.
What can you do about it?
We have two sources of acid with which to deal. Although these sources are separate, they are related. You could say that both are ‘eating’ problems. One has to do with type of foods (acidic) that we put into the mouth, as well as how much and how often. The other relates to the regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the mouth. Indigestion, heartburn and regurgitation follow after the consumption of food. In this way, it is easy to see the problem as food-related or more correctly eating-related.
1. Modify the acid intake in the diet
Notice the tendency to use acidic foods and make a decision to restrict intake. Some common drinks on the market can be very corrosive. Apparently you can clean old coins in a well-known fizzy drink. If it has this effect on metal, you can easily imagine the effects on the tooth structure, not to mention the effects on the soft tissues.
2. Take steps to ensure the health of the stomach
Have the stomach checked by your doctor to see if there are any abnormalities present and have whatever treatment is necessary. Be aware of bad eating habits and resolve to change them. Examine the following checklist and make your resolutions. It is not difficult to understand the childhood origin of many of these eating habits. How many can remember being told to “Hurry up and finish that dinner!” or “You won’t leave that table until the dinner is all gone”.
- Never rush your meal – ensure adequate time for eating, chewing and some time afterwards for digestion.
- Never put food into the mouth while there is food still being chewed. Always wait until one piece of food is swallowed before placing another piece in the mouth.
- Eat mindfully getting maximum taste and enjoyment from the food.
- Stop when you feel you are full. Do not try to finish everything on your plate. Try not to feel over-full after the meal. Make sure you stop eating before this happens.
These very simple measures can have very significant effects over time, whether the problem is being overweight or being underweight.
3. Check for underlying emotional/psychological difficulties
It is well accepted and understood that eating difficulties often have an emotional or psychological basis. You may for example have heard of ‘comfort eating’ where a person tends to over-eat when they are upset. This behaviour is very common.
When the eating patterns seem to be resistant to change, it is then worthwhile to get professional advice and help. Exploring this area with an appropriate professional can yield tremendous results. Do not be in any way shy about contacting a psychologist or counsellor to help you with this (the advice of an empathetic dietician can also be very useful).
The help and advice that you will get will often last a lifetime!
About the author
This page is a slightly shortened version of the chapter “Acid Damage” in Philip Christie’s book “Something To Chew On – A Mouth Map to Health“. Philip, who works as a dentist in Waterford City, Ireland, believes in a people-centered approach to dentistry and medicine, where people work in partnership with practitioners.
© Philip Christie, 2003
More Tips from the Oral Health Foundation:
- Wait for at least one hour after eating or drinking anything acidic before brushing your teeth. This gives your teeth time to build up their mineral content again.
- Limit acidic products and fizzy drinks to mealtimes to reduce the number of acid attacks on your teeth.
- Drinks should be drunk quickly, rather than sipped or swished around your mouth. You can also use a straw to help drinks go to the back of your mouth and avoid long contact with your teeth.
- Chew sugar-free gum after eating (for a few minutes) to help produce more saliva to help cancel out the acids which form in your mouth after eating.
- Finish a meal with cheese or milk as this will help neutralise the acid.
Tell me about… Dental erosion (British Dental Health Foundation)