Acid erosion on teeth

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As a kid growing up in the Japanese American community, I spent many of my weekends playing in basketball tournaments as a member of the San Francisco Associates basketball team. I remember picking up a 32-ounce bottle of red, orange, or blue Gatorade for each game so I could “Be like Mike (Michael Jordan).” Little did my parents or I know of the amount of sugar in sports drinks! I am still surprised my teeth survived through my Gatorade and VitaminWater-drinking days relatively unscathed of cavities. Now parents are smarter and give their kids bottled water, which sounds like a better choice, but cavities are not the only thing we need to worry about from consuming bottled drinks.

Erosive tooth wear has become a common problem we see in the dental office as more adults keep their teeth compared to prior generations, and as teens consume soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, and even bottled water. If your dentist has said you grind your teeth, or you are brushing too hard, or if you get sensitivity when eating or drinking something cold, chances are you may be experiencing those symptoms due to acid erosion.

Whether something is acidic or basic is determined by its pH. A neutral pH (like our natural saliva) is measured at pH 7.0 on a scale of 0-14. A value below 7 is considered acidic. Studies have shown that tooth enamel and dentin begin to break down and form a soft outer layer when the tooth surface pH reaches below 4.5-5.5. Brushing and grinding teeth together in an acidic environment can lead to the loss of the thin soft layer. Over a period of time, constant abrasive forces on soft teeth can cause a noticeable loss of tooth structure, especially along the gum line.

Most soda, sports and energy drinks — and some well-known brands of bottled water — have been tested to have an acidic pH. In addition, my patients often feel hopeless when they find out their teeth are in an acidic environment from just eating, too! But pH is not the only factor that determines whether your teeth are being harmed. The duration of exposure is equally important.

People who sip on a soda or an acidic bottle of water throughout their workday are at higher risk for tooth wear (and cavities) compared to those who chug their drinks. Also, it is important to note that citric acid (sports and energy drinks) takes more time to neutralize than phosphoric acid (soda).

So pretty much everything is bad for our teeth? No, but here are three simple habits I recommend to my patients to prevent erosive tooth wear:

1. Brush your teeth 30-60 minutes after eating or drinking. This helps teeth recover and return to a harder state.

2. Avoid acidic drinks but if you do, drink it quickly or eat some cheese after to neutralize your mouth.

3. Stay hydrated with filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Hopefully, these three simple tips can help you maintain a healthy smile for many years to come.

Dr. Clint K. Taura, DDS is a native San Franciscan who earned his D.D.S. degree from the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry. He volunteers his time providing dental care at the Berkeley Free Clinic and has gone on multiple dental mission trips to Jamaica through the 1000 Smiles Dental Project. His dental practice is located at 1788 Sutter St., Suite 201 in San Francisco’s Japantown. For more information, visit www.clinttauradds.com, call (415) 563-2000 or e-mail: tauradds@gmail.com.

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