Teeth are composed of layers of different types of tissue. The main inner layers — the pulp and dentin — help the teeth respond and adapt to external forces. But they’re vulnerable to decay and quite sensitive to environmental extremes. They are protected from all these by a coating of enamel, made of the hardest material found in the human body.
But while enamel is strong, it’s not invincible — it can soften and dissolve (de-mineralize) if the mouth environment becomes too acidic. While de-mineralization occurs normally whenever the mouth becomes too acidic after eating or drinking, saliva helps neutralize the acid (buffering); in fact, saliva can restore to the enamel some of the calcium and other minerals it has lost (a process called re-mineralization).
If the acidic level remains too high for too long it can overwhelm saliva’s buffering ability and cause permanent mineral loss to the enamel. This erosion leaves teeth more susceptible to decay and disease and could lead to tooth loss. With this in mind, here’s some ways you can help preserve your enamel:
- Wait about thirty to sixty minutes after eating or drinking to brush your teeth. Counterintuitive as this may sound, it takes about thirty minutes for saliva to restore a normal pH level and re-mineralize the enamel. If you brush within this window of time, you could brush away some of the softened minerals from the enamel.
- Only brush twice a day. Over-brushing causes undue enamel wear, as well as contributing to receding gums.
- Take advantage of less acidic or mineral-rich beverages. Drink milk or water most of the time, rather than juices, sodas or sports drinks. The calcium in milk or as an additive to acidic beverages aids in buffering and re-mineralization.
- Use a straw for acidic beverages. With a straw your teeth avoid direct contact with most of the beverage’s acid, a key factor in de-mineralization.
- Avoid eating just before bed. Saliva flow decreases significantly when we sleep. If you eat right before bed, there may be less saliva available for buffering and re-mineralization.
Following these tips, along with effective oral hygiene, will go a long way in protecting your teeth’s enamel coating — and preserving your teeth in the long run.
If you would like more information on enamel erosion and how to prevent it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”