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Can the way you eat affect the strength of your teeth?

Dentists are becoming increasingly aware of a problem called ‘erosive toothwear’ and how it affects the health of your teeth. Its prevalence among patients is increasing and prevention is seen as the best way to address the problem. Luckily, a few simple dietary changes can help to protect your teeth and avoid the associated problems of sensitivity, function and appearance that erosive toothwear can bring.

What is erosive toothwear?

Erosive toothwear is a term used to describe the destruction of tooth tissue over time, which can affect the way your teeth look, the way they function and their sensitivity.

In particular, erosion can cause loss of your tooth enamel and eventually the main body of your tooth which is made from hard tissue. This leads to the shortening of your teeth.
New research has helped to establish what causes erosive toothwear, and has identified a number of simple dietary changes that you can make to prevent it.

What you are eating and drinking

Dietary acids in your diet increase the chances of you developing erosive toothwear. But what foods contain ‘dietary acids’? Examples of foods that contain them are:

  • Fruits – this even includes fruits such as tomatoes and chillies. Whilst most fruits are acidic, some such as peaches or bananas are less acidic than citrus fruits and so are better for your teeth;
  • Fizzy drinks – one study has found that nearly all of American soft drinks are erosive;
  • Fruit teas or fruit flavourings in drinks – surprisingly, these can have the same affect on erosive toothwear as consuming carbonated drinks such as Coca Cola or Pepsi;
  • Vinegars and pickles – which includes snacks such as salt and vinegar crisps;
  • Some sugar-free sweets – including fruit-flavoured confectionary or cough sweets.

Understandably, the more often you consume these foods, you are at higher risk of erosive toothwear. It was found that one of these foods, or less, per day did not have any impact on toothwear erosion, whereas a frequency above this did.

How  you are eating or drinking

It is not just the foods or drinks you are eating that could cause erosive toothwear, but how you are eating or drinking them.

One factor that increases your risk of erosive toothwear is if the foods or drinks described above are eaten between meals. For example, a 3pm can of soda or a fruit tea increases your risk or erosion by almost double compared to drinking them with meals.

Additionally, it was found that eating fruit with meals did not have any impact on erosion, where as eating fruit between meals did.

Taking a long time, for example 10 minutes or so, to eat an apple or orange will also increase the risk of erosion. Along similar lines, drinking fruit teas or fizzy drinks slowly by sipping them, or if you swish or hold them in your mouth before swallowing also increases the risk of erosive toothwear.

Interestingly, the study also found that consuming these foods and drinks at a hotter temperature increases the risk of causing toothwear erosion.

Concerned about toothwear?

The best ways to prevent erosive toothwear are outlined above – limiting your intake of dietary acids, eating or drinking any acids with meals and avoiding hot acidic drinks will all help prevent the onset or progression of erosion. Using toothpastes that protect enamel may also help, and using de-sensitising products if you are already suffering from sensitive teeth.

If you are concerned about erosive toothwear, you should ask your General Dental Practitioner about it and request she or he provide you with an assessment at your next appointment. If your erosion is very severe, you may be recommended treatment to restore the best functionality of your teeth or improve the aesthetics of your teeth.

Dentists are becoming more aware of toothwear erosion and a new charity has been set up by the dental industry to address the issue – you can visit their website at www.erosivetoothwear.co.uk.

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