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Dental erosion

3-minute read

What is dental erosion?

Dental erosion occurs when acids dissolve away part of the enamel surface of your teeth. It is usually caused by acidic drinks or medicines, excessive vomiting or acid reflux. Erosion is not caused by bacteria, so it is different to tooth decay.

Dental erosion can occur at any age. But it can be particularly severe in elderly people with dry mouths if they don’t produce enough saliva to flush out and neutralise acids.

What are the symptoms and complications of dental erosion?

Eroded teeth can:

  • be chalky, pitted or discoloured (yellow)
  • have sharp edges
  • be sensitive to hot, cold, sugary and acidic substances

Tooth enamel dissolves progressively, exposing the softer, butter-coloured layer under the surface.

Dental erosion increases the risk of tooth decay and other problems.

What causes dental erosion?

There are 2 main causes of dental erosion — external and internal.

External causes

These include diet, medicines and exposure to acids in your environment.

Food and drinks that can cause dental erosion:

  • fruit juices
  • soft drinks (sugary or sugar-free)
  • sports drinks
  • wine
  • citrus fruits
  • vinegar
  • foods with additives such as citric acid or phosphoric acid

Caffeine can also increase the chance of dental erosion because it reduces saliva production.

Medicines and health products that can cause dental erosion include:

People with certain jobs are more susceptible to tooth erosion. These include wine professionals and factory workers who are exposed to airborne industrial acids, such as those who work in battery and fertiliser factories. Poorly chlorinated pools and spas can also increase the risk of tooth erosion.

Internal or intrinsic causes

Tooth erosion may occur as a result of health conditions or symptoms such as:

How is dental erosion treated?

If dental erosion is untreated, it can lead to the loss of tooth structure. This can require treatment to the outside and interior of the tooth and nerves. Treatments include:

Your dentist may suggest applying a fluoride varnish or a remineralising treatment, as well as a management plan to stop further dental erosion.

If gastric reflux or some other medical condition is causing your dental erosion, discuss treatment options with your doctor or a relevant specialist.

Can dental erosion be prevented?

To prevent dental erosion:

  • cut down on fruit juices, sports drinks, soft drinks and diet drinks
  • cut down on acidic foods
  • drink water after eating acidic foods, in between meals and after drinking tea or coffee
  • rinse your mouth with water or milk after vomiting
  • chew sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after eating acidic foods to increase saliva
  • avoid alcohol and do not eat for 3 hours before bedtime to reduce acid reflux
  • have regular dental or oral health check-ups

Wait at least half an hour before brushing your teeth after consuming acidic drinks or vomiting. Use a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.

Avoid giving babies sugary drinks or fruit juice, as they can damage teeth as they first appear.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2021

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