Among the reasons why people suffer from sensitive teeth, one of the most common is enamel erosion. Enamel is the substance that makes up the outermost layer of the teeth. It is the hardest substance in the body and it protects the sensitive dentin layer and pulp. However, once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Fortunately, there are some simple changes most people can make to prevent further erosion and there are treatments available to strengthen enamel that hasn’t yet been lost.
Most people are aware that when sugar sticks to teeth it becomes food for bacteria, which damage the teeth by producing acid. But the acid produced by bacteria is not special in this regard—acid from other sources can be just as damaging. One of the most common sources of both sugar and acid is soda, which also stains enamel. Other common sources of acid are citrus juice and alcohol. Citrus juice is highly acidic but is not always instantly recognizable; citric fruit-derived sour flavoring is one source which can fly under the radar. Alcohol is corrosive to enamel in its own right and several alcoholic drinks are high in sugar. There is currently a bit of a diplomatic tiff between Britain and Italy over British dentists’ claim that carbonated wines may pose a particular danger to dental health.
It is important to note that a lot of the risk posed by these sources can be mitigated by simply not swishing them around inside the mouth and by drinking (non-carbonated) water in between sips. Saliva is also an important means of neutralizing acid in the mouth, which is why it is wise to chew sugar-free gum and candy to stimulate its production but dangerous to allow the mouth to dry out. Another major oral health problem which impacts enamel is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux. When people have this disease, their stomach acid enters their esophagi when they swallow and can get into their mouths. The upper back teeth are typically most affected by this. The risk factors for acid reflux largely consist of the same foods which cause acid damage the first time down, as well as smoking, fatty foods, and practices such as lying down after meals which are bad for digestion.
Tooth sensitivity tends to be worst when the patient eats foods that are especially hot or cold. Other warning signs of enamel erosion to watch out for are teeth taking on a yellow color, since the dentin layer below the enamel is yellow, and cupping, and chipping. Toothpaste with fluoride can be useful for remineralizing enamel that has been weakened, as can milk and other drinks and foods which are high in calcium. It is also possible to shield weakened enamel with a fluoride treatment or veneers.