Tips to help protect tooth enamel

By Jennifer Wallace, DMD

Usually when I ask a patient in my office what their long-term goals are for their teeth, the answer is “I want to keep them a lifetime.” That answer would make any dentist proud, but there are also some great reasons that prove keeping your natural teeth can help patients live a healthier, happier  lifetime. It’s easier to eat healthier foods like crunchy fruits and veggies with natural teeth versus removable partials or dentures. It is also sometimes difficult to taste or judge the size and temperature of foods when wearing those appliances.

We all pretty much remember fifth grade health class and what enamel is right? It’s the outer surface of teeth and it should last a lifetime. Did you know enamel is the hardest substance in the body? Yes, it is, but it can break easily. Ice, popcorn, and tongue and lip piercings can chip teeth. And unlike skin, teeth can’t re-grow.  I cringe when my patients ask, “Can you tell I crunch ice or crunch popcorn kernels?”  Eating a popcorn kernel is like eating a small stone and no shock that ice is brittle. I’d also caution to be especially careful if your mouth is full of dental work such as fillings and crowns unless you really do love visiting your dentist!

That all being said, some wear and tear of tooth enamel is normal but it’s necessary to help you keep your teeth a lifetime. There are plenty things you can do to keep your enamel strong.

Try these easy tips:

• Limit sugary soft drinks and foods to meal times. Sugar leads to acids in the mouth, which soften and eventually wear away at enamel. Chewy candies that stick on your teeth are very damaging. Regular soft drinks have sugar that can damage your teeth, but did you know that even the artificially sweetened sodas, energy drinks and powerades have extra acids that can erode the enamel? The best choice when you’re thirsty? A glass of water!

• Not only is it important for children and expecting mother to have a healthy diet to form strong teeth, it’s proactive and beneficial for adults to eat healthy foods that have calcium. Calcium counteracts acids in your mouth, and also helps keep bones and teeth strong. Milk, cheese, and other dairy products all help protect and strengthen enamel.

• Avoid over brushing by brushing too fast and hard. That can wear down enamel. Hold a soft-bristle brush at about a 45-degree angle to your gums and move it back and forth in short, gentle strokes, about the distance of one tooth. Even better yet, invest in a power toothbrush to aid in a correct technique. Wait for up to an hour after eating sweets or citrus fruits. Acidic foods temporarily soften enamel and may make it easier to damage. Give your enamel time to re-harden before cleaning.

• If you have issues with heart burn, don’t ignore it. With severe heartburn, stomach acids may escape up into the esophagus. If those acids reach your mouth, they can erode enamel. The eating disorder bulimia, in which people vomit food after they eat, is another threat. If you have symptoms of heartburn or bulimia, talk to your doctor about treatment.

• Drink water often to keep your mouth clean and moist. Saliva helps wash away food and bacteria that can lead to cavities. It also counteracts the effects of acidic foods. People with very low salivary levels often show signs of enamel erosion. Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard candy can also help. A big one that I see that cause dry mouth are medical conditions and some medications. It’s very important if dry mouth persists, talk to your doctor.

Jennifer Wallace is at Palmetto Smiles of Beaufort: 843-524-7645.

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