Are You Unknowingly Wearing Precious Tooth Enamel Away?

added on: April 20, 2022

We don’t know what we don’t know.

I learned this early on many times. For example, for years I thought I was cooking the “right” foods for my family. Then, I learned that the apples I was buying were laden with pesticides and the chicken was full of antibiotics. 

In dentistry, patients are often surprised when our dental assistants or hygienists mention things that can harm the health of teeth. While most people grew up hearing that sugar is bad for teeth, many don’t really know why. We’re taught to brush our teeth twice a day, now only to learn that there are ways this healthy habit can damage teeth.

Below, I’ve mentioned a few cautions that may surprise you.

• Acidic Foods & Beverages: Many things that we eat and drink are harsh to the enamel of natural teeth. This hard protective shell is what keeps bacteria from penetrating teeth, which can lead to cavities. Without this coating, it can also weaken teeth, resulting in fractures or cracks. Although we may start our day with a glass of orange juice or refresh ourselves outdoors with a cola, these actually bathe teeth in an acidity that is hard on teeth.

Think of the many things you may eat or drink during the day that are high in acidity. One is tomatoes, which is a leading ingredient in sauces and condiments (including catsup and salsa) as well as tomato juice and fresh tomatoes. Citrus juices are just as harmful, such as orange and grapefruit juice, lemonade, and cranberry juice. If you drink water with a squeeze of lemon or add lemon to your tea, that also ups the acidity level.

Sodas and coffee, tea and wine are all highly acidic to boot. Many of these also contain sugar (often in the form of high fructose corn syrup). Sugar ‘super charges’ oral bacteria and its ability to demineralize teeth. Therefore, a combination of sugar and acidity doubles the harmful effects.

• Brushing too soon after eating: To begin, please don’t allow anything to deter you from brushing your teeth at least twice a day. However, when you “rush to brush” after eating or drinking (anything other than plain water), tooth enamel can be unknowingly worn down. Here’s what happens…

In with saliva, a digestive acid flows into the mouth at the beginning of consumption. This acid is helpful in breaking foods down before they are swallowed so the digestive system can process them more efficiently. However, this acid is potent, strong enough to soften tooth enamel. When the bristles of a toothbrush scrubbed over softened tooth enamel right after eating can wear it down. How soon is too soon?

An acid flow lasts for 20 – 30 minutes after eating. But, mind you, that’s after the last bite or sip. So, if you are snacking on pretzels while watching a movie, the acid attack begins when the first bite is taken and will last for 20 or so minutes after the last one is eaten. For people who “graze” during the day or are frequent snackers, this is why it’s far better to eat three meals a day. Too, sipping on a cola over the course of an hour or so subjects teeth to a prolonged acid flow.

Rather than head to the sink immediately after eating, rinse the mouth with water and wait about a half an hour. You can also chew sugarless gum, which helps with saliva flow – the mouth’s natural rinsing agent.

• Using abrasive substances to brush: One of the reasons we always recommend a soft or medium bristled tooth brush is because a hard one has the potential to wear down enamel. Unfortunately, many people brush their teeth using a scrubbing motion. And, some believe that the harder they scrub, the better job they’ve done. This is far from true.

Pushing down on teeth with a hard toothbrush and going back and forth can wear down enamel as well as gum tissues. Because the gums are what seal out bacteria from penetrating below the tooth and down its root, this leaves them less capable of a snug grip around the base of teeth. And, if you believe that seeing blood in the sink when you brush is a sign you’re doing a good job, it’s not. As a matter of fact, seeing blood when brushing is typically a sign of periodontal (gum) disease, the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss.

Too, some people feel that abrasive substances such as baking soda are helpful in getting teeth clean. That’s the opposite of what is beneficial for teeth, or gum tissues. Use nothing but a fluoridated toothpaste that has the ADA seal of approval. For sensitive teeth, we can make suggestions as well as offer a specially formulated toothpaste. 

To determine if you are pushing down too hard when brushing, look at your toothbrush’s bristles. If they flay outward rather than stand up straight, you’re pushing down too much. Think of it this way: when you sweep the floor with a broom, it is the tips of the broom’s bristles that work efficiently to gather dirt and dust. Pushing down on the broom causes the bristles to fan out, making it actually less capable of gathering dirt particles. Remember, it is in the tips of the bristles of your toothbrush that “sweep” over tooth surfaces to disrupt and remove buildup of bacteria (known as plaque).

• Misaligned bite (“malocclusion”): People are often surprised to learn that their “bite” is what is contributing to worn teeth. It’s a series of events that lead to an abnormal wearing down of tooth enamel, but the results can affect teeth in a destructive way.

For example, teeth that are misaligned can cause the jaw joints (TMJ) to become strained. This can result in night-time clenching or grinding (amongst other problems). This action can wear down tooth enamel as well as lead to tooth fractures, chips and breaks.

When it comes to tooth enamel, grinding can reveal itself in the tops of teeth becoming worn down. This “sawing” action not only shaves off tooth enamel, it can eventually expose the dentin of tooth, which is the second layer under the enamel shell. Because dentin is a softer, porous layer, it is far more vulnerable to cavities and other damage.

Learn more about the hazards of TMJ problems and bite misalignment on our web site or check out a blog specific to this problem at: TMJ Disorder

We believe the more you know about how to properly care for your oral health out of our Shelby Twp dental office lessens the potential of treatment needed inside! After all, we’re proponents of you having a healthy, confident smile all of your life.

If you have delayed or avoided dental appointments due to fear or assuming “if it doesn’t hurt, then nothing is wrong,” we hope you’ll schedule a no-charge consultation. (Call 586-739-2155 or tap here.) During this time, we can discuss comfort options, initial steps and even payment plans. 

Even a dentist likes to munch on popcorn while watching a movie or sip lemonade on a hot day. We just know how to lessen the risks. And, now, you do, too!

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Dr. Ban R. Barbat

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