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A tooth is covered by a hard substance called enamel. Acids that form in a person's mouth from eating certain foods or drinking beverages such as fruit juice or wine can gradually wear away this tough, protective coating. This chemical process is irreversible and is known as tooth erosion. The process causes a loss in tooth structure and is a common dental disease, particularly in children and teenagers.
When a tooth erodes, it typically becomes sensitive to variations in hot and cold temperatures. In appearance, the tooth may also change in color — teeth often become yellow but appear clear around the edges. In addition, the eroding process also can cause a tooth to become curved, which might lead to cracking.
Erosion is triggered from an overabundance of acid in the mouth. Certain foods and drink, including sports drinks, orange juice, mineral water, carbonated beverage, and pickles contain acid. A person who suffers from acid reflux may also experience tooth erosion as the acid from the stomach finds its way into the mouth. A person who experiences morning sickness or is bulimic or anorexic may also suffer from tooth erosion, as repeatedly throwing up produces acid. Other sources that may lead to tooth erosion include chewing on aspirin, consuming an overabundance of alcohol, and being exposed to chemicals such as chlorine in a pool.
Tooth erosion can be prevented by limiting the intake of food or drink with high acid content. After throwing up or consuming any food or drink that is acidic, a person should wait at least 60 minutes before brushing one's teeth. If a person brushes too soon, it can harm tooth enamel and quicken the process of erosion. When brushing one's teeth, most dentists recommend brushing gently with a soft-bristled appliance and using a hypersensitive toothpaste that contains fluoride.
Limiting snacks between meals also can help prevent tooth erosion. If an individual needs to snack, he or she can eat foods low in acid content, such as bread, fruits, and vegetables. Also, a person can reduce the risk for tooth erosion by consuming drinks such as tea, milk, and water that are not acidic. After ingesting acidic food or beverages, rinsing with water also can lower the risk of enamel loss.
Treatment for tooth erosion depends on the severity of the condition. If the erosion is limited, it is possible that no treatment is necessary. However, if erosion is extreme, the tooth may need repair. Options also include a root canal, a bridge, crown, or an implant.