Is your lifestyle affecting your dental health?

As we “race” through the day in our busy lives we often don’t take a moment to consider how our lifestyle and nutrition choices can have a dramatic effect on both our oral health and overall health. In her Severna Park dental practice, Dr. Morgan educates her patients on the detrimental effects that some foods and beverages have on their teeth and oral cavity.

A member of the American Dental Association, Dr. Morgan is among many in the dental community who are seeing first-hand the negative dental health effects of acid in our diets. Frequent exposure to these foods and beverages will increase tooth erosion.

Dental erosion (tooth erosion) is the irreversible loss of tooth enamel due to chemical processes that do not involve bacterial action. Tooth enamel is a mineralized hard tissue that covers and protects the tooth. It is the hardest tissue in the human body but it can be chemically dissolved in an acidic environment. The acids that cause dental erosion may come from intrinsic (e.g. gastroesophageal reflux, vomiting) or extrinsic sources (e.g. acidic beverages, citrus fruits).

Tooth erosion is a slow progressive process that leads to the loss of the protective hard tissues of the tooth caused by exposure to acids for long periods of time. Modern life-style and dietary habits are responsible for a sharp increase in the prevalence of dental erosion, especially in the young population of developed countries. Teeth erosion is becoming increasingly common and can have long-term consequences for the patient’s dental health.

Tooth erosion generally occurs as a result of the chemical action of acids on the tooth surfaces. These acids that can be either extrinsic or intrinsic dissolve gradually the tooth enamel from the surface of the tooth.

Causes of tooth erosion due to extrinsic acids (from outside the body):

1. Frequent consumption of acidic foods and drinks is the main cause of tooth enamel loss.

2. Some medicines are acidic and, therefore, erosive. They can cause dental erosion on direct contact with the teeth when the medication is chewed or held in the mouth prior to swallowing.

3. Environmental factors such as the chlorine and other chemicals in swimming pools can cause erosion over time.

Causes of tooth erosion due to intrinsic acids (from inside the body):

1. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux, in which stomach acids come up into the esophagus and mouth, can cause severe tooth erosion. Gastric acids are highly acidic with pH levels that can be less than 1.

2. Eating disorders that cause frequent vomiting are also responsible for tooth enamel loss caused by the gastric acids.

3. Bulimia (anorexia nervosa) is another frequent cause of eroded teeth due to chronic excessive vomiting. Besides vomiting, persons who suffer from bulimia tend to consume larger quantities of fresh fruits and acidic beverages that worsen the problem.

4. Alcoholism could also cause vomiting- related loss of tooth enamel.

5. Low salivary flow rate is a significant factor for dental erosion due to reduced pH buffering capacity (its ability to neutralize changes in mouth’s pH).

Teeth erosion affects the whole surface of the teeth, unlike tooth abrasion and attrition where the symptoms are isolated in specific areas of the tooth.

Early symptoms of tooth erosion include:

1. Teeth Discoloration: Since the dentin of the tooth is exposed during tooth erosion, discoloration or yellowing of the teeth can occur. The more dentin that is exposed, the more yellow the teeth will become.

2. Tooth Sensitivity: Sensitive teeth are very common symptoms of teeth erosion because the enamel that protects the teeth wears away, leaving exposed the dentin (the softer, sensitive part of the tooth).

3. Rounded/Shorter Teeth: Teeth with dental erosion have usually a rounded look. If the tooth enamel loss is extensive, teeth might also look shorter.

4. Transparency: The tips of the front teeth might look transparent.

Advanced symptoms of tooth erosion include:

1. Cracking: If tooth erosion continues, the edges of the teeth can start to crack and have a rough feeling.

2. Pulp Exposure: in deciduous teeth.

3. Tooth Decay: teeth affected by dental erosion are more likely to suffer from tooth decay.

Certain medications can contribute to enamel erosion and tooth decay, including some very common over the counter medications. Antihistamines, pain relievers and certain prescription medications can cause a condition known as “dry mouth”, which can lead to enamel erosion and its effects because of a lack of saliva present to help flush out bacteria that can cause plaque. In addition to tooth brushing, saliva is an important factor in keeping your mouth healthy and preventing decay.

Dr. Morgan not only recognizes the impact of lifestyle choices on dental health, she offers her patients the dental services they need to establish and maintain oral hygiene, developing life-long relationships with her loyal patients. Contact Dr. Lynn Morgan at her Severna Park dental office to schedule a consultation.