Tooth enamel is the hard, outer surface that protects your teeth against decay. Although it’s one of the toughest mineral substances in your body, it’s still susceptible to erosion—and once enamel is lost, it doesn’t come back.
The following habits will wear away at your enamel over time. Cutting out these, in conjunction with regular dental exams, should leave your enamel strong and safe.
- Too much acidic food and drink: Acid, which corrodes tooth enamel, is prominent in a lot of our everyday diets. Coffee, soda, citrus, fish, wine, and grains are just a few examples of common acidic foods and drinks that wear away enamel. If these are some of your dietary staples, don’t sweat, you don’t have to quit these foods cold turkey. Instead, try drinking acidic beverages like fruit juice and coffee through a straw so that they make less direct contact with your teeth. Likewise, try consuming highly acidic snacks alongside more basic dishes like dairy when you can.
- Sugar overload: The bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugar. This is why dentists have it out for Halloween—sugar binges feed plaque bacteria, which then irreversibly eat away at your enamel. Try to avoid candy – especially the sour kind – and carbonated soft drinks as much as possible, which can wreak extra havoc on your teeth.
- Not staying hydrated: A dry mouth means there’s not enough saliva to regulate acid levels and wash away food debris. Make sure you’re regularly sipping water, especially when you’re snacking on sugary or acidic foods.
- Tooth grinding: Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a fairly common affliction, affecting an estimated 16% of the population. The stress bruxism places on your teeth not only wears through your enamel, but it also strains your jaw and, in extreme cases, can even crack your teeth. If you’re a tooth grinder, ask your dentist about a mouthguard. He or she will often provide one specially fitted to you.
- Brushing too hard: When it comes to choosing a toothbrush, always opt for something soft-bristled. Your enamel is sensitive, and over-brushing can cause some severe erosion. Likewise, make sure you’re using a soft touch—if you find your toothbrushes wear out quickly, this probably means you’re brushing with too much force.
- Brushing too often: While it may seem like a good idea to scrub away coffee breath, be cautious of brushing right after you consume acidic food and drink. Acid leaves your enamel vulnerable for about thirty minutes, so make sure you’re waiting at least this long before picking up that toothbrush. In total, you should not be brushing for more than four minutes a day—dentists recommend brushing for two minutes each morning and night.
- Skipping dental visits: When it comes to protecting and maintaining tooth enamel, professionals know best. Be sure you’re attending regular dental exams and cleanings. These will effectively rid your mouth of plaque, tartar, and enamel-eating bacteria. It will also give your dentist a chance to check the status of your enamel and recommend special toothpaste or brushes if needed.
Although it’s impossible to rebuild tooth enamel, existing enamel can be fortified. A combination of calcium-rich foods, therapeutic toothpaste, fluoridated water, and other factors can strengthen your existing enamel. Ask your dentist about which products and techniques are right for you.