Did you know that your tooth enamel is composed of 96% calcium and phosphate molecules arranged in a crystalline pattern? In fact, the components and molecular structure of tooth enamel collectively make it the strongest material in the entire human body. With that being said, it is important to note that while tooth enamel is the strongest material in the human body, it is not completely resistant to damage.
One way that tooth enamel can become damaged is through a process called dental erosion. Dental erosion occurs when the tooth enamel is exposed to high concentrations of acid that causes demineralization of the enamel. Simply stated, the acids break down the molecular bonds of hydroxyapatite, which is the scientific term for the component of tooth enamel.
In most cases, the enamel is able to recover from daily acid exposure and can remineralize itself with the help of the many minerals found in saliva. However, in cases where there is an excessive amount of acid, this delicate balance gets interrupted and the enamel becomes unable to remineralize. This is known as dental erosion.
By far the most common cause of erosion is the acidic waste products from decay-causing bacteria. In fact, demineralization is the first step to developing a dental cavity. However, the enamel can be exposed to acid in various other ways, such as:
Several different kinds of foods including rhubarb, berries, apples, and citrus fruits, are highly acidic. Juices or sodas that contain citric or phosphoric acid are also highly acidic. When foods and beverages containing high amounts of acid are regularly consumed, this exposes the enamel to higher concentrations of acid that can result in the erosion of the enamel.
Individuals with acid reflux conditions such as GERD frequently have stomach acid that travels up their esophagus. In some cases, stomach acid can pool around the back teeth while sleeping. Additionally, the overall acid concentration of saliva can increase as well, inhibiting the remineralization process.
Dry mouth refers to a condition that impairs normal saliva production. Adequate amounts of saliva are needed to help the mouth neutralize acid and allow for enamel remineralization. However, when the amount of saliva is decreased, the mouth cannot produce enough saliva to neutralize acids or remineralize damaged enamel.
Grinding or clenching one’s teeth is known as bruxism. This unfortunate habit places additional strain on the teeth due to the constant force of rubbing against one another. Over time, this weakens the enamel and makes it more susceptible to dental erosion from dietary acids.
As you can see, dental erosion is another way your teeth can become damaged. Even with bacterial acid being the primary way enamel is damaged, diet, acid reflux, dry mouth, and bruxism can all contribute to enamel erosion. Therefore, it is important to discuss these things with your local dentist to determine the best course of action to preserve your enamel.
Dr. April Toyer became a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry in 2011 and is proud to be a consultant for Committee of Sedation and Anesthesia within the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.