Put my mind and teeth at ease, please
March 30, 2015 7:03 PM   Subscribe

You know all those Sensodyne commercials featuring dentists that claim our teeth are being dissolved by everything we eat? Is acid erosion a real thing to be concerned about or is that just really effective (for me) scaremongering to sell product?

Those ads hit my teeth anxiety button. Will someone with healthy teeth and an average diet who brushes and flosses daily and drinks fluoridated city water wish at 80 they had used a so-called enamel renewal toothpaste all along?
posted by cecic to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have some acid erosion at the tips of my teeth that I can see in certain light. I'm 28 and have never had a cavity or a tooth break. My hygienist calls my teeth 'perfect.' The things that will kill your teeth are excessive soda drinking, fruit juice drinking, or hard brushing with beads/abrasive bits in those 'whitening' toothpastes. Ideally one should use a soft or extra soft toothbrush, a smooth paste, and brush using small circular motions and softly. It's not how hard you brush, it's how long you brush, and how much ground you cover in there. Don't overdo whitening strips or treatments, and don't chew ice or pens. You'll be fine.
posted by Avosunspin at 7:28 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm noticing that you didn't put "regularly visits a dentist" on that list. You should visit a dentist. Regularly! But ... no. Don't be scaremongered. @avosunspin has it.

The dentists in the commercials (nb. Have not seen one) are spot on: your teeth are being attacked by everything you eat. But regular brushing with any flouride toothpaste will save them. You don't need sensodyne unless you have sensitive teeth.

I have ghastly teeth that I blame on a combination of known congenital enamel problems and a long youthful period during which I was a calcium deprived vegan (not all vegans, just me) who snacked a lot, only brushed at night and used BS homemade flouride free non-toothpaste and a hard brush. I could be wrong (super possible) but I think I basically destroyed my teeth somewhere in there. Maybe it was just the hard brush.

But as a result one of the things I have is receding gums and this incredible hyper sensitivity on my gum line. Like when my dentist prods it I yowl and think the world is going to end. Even typing this is making me really tense.

But ... I use Sensodyne. Not as toothpaste, even, I just rub some on the yowl-spots after I brush. I don't usually have to do it for long. I just had some work done and it still hurts so I'm back on the Sensodyne, but I expect to use it for like a week. My dentist wants me to use some kind of Crest strip things, but I can't find them anywhere. All of which is to say, Sensodyne is great if you happen to need it because you can't drink cold water or your sensitivity is getting in the way of your brushing.
posted by amandabee at 7:46 PM on March 30, 2015

I have some spots of "flaking" on my front teeth, where the topmost layer of enamel has flaked off, requiring bonding. My dentist told me that a lifetime of brushing, eating, drinking, etc. had resulted in some unavoidable damage to my teeth. It's important to brush twice a day with a SOFT brush, floss or water Pik (that's what she recommends for gum health) and especially to rinse well after drinking highly acidic drinks, like tea with lemon or real lemonade. Fluoridated water is important for children-not sure if my city had it when I was a little kid, actually, and that could possibly be a factor in the flaking, I suppose.

Enamel is a coating on the teeth that can be worn, or chipped, or dissolved away, given a long enough life and the right circumstances, so it's worth the investment over the years to minimize damage. I really, really want to keep my teeth so I try to follow her advice.
posted by citygirl at 8:03 PM on March 30, 2015

I sort of asked my dentist this question last time I saw her.

I told her I drank a lot of diet soda. I thought synthetic sweeteners might not be as bad for teeth as 'natural' sweeteners, but she said, diet or not, phosphoric acid is the enemy in soda, not sugar per se.

Acid does what acid does. Erodes stuff. In this case, enamel. She said if I wanted to drink soda, to at least rinse my mouth out with water afterwards, and that I shouldn't drink soda or eat anything after I had brushed my teeth before bed.

That's not entirely on-subject.

I also asked her about toothpaste.

She said toothpastes are basically all the same. Buy the cheapest, and use it to brush for two minutes, twice a day. The benefits of brushing come from the brushing, she said. Everything else is marketing.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 8:05 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Acid can cause net demineralization of teeth, yes. The critical pH, about 5.5, is the pH at which this starts to occur. Your saliva has a pH of about 7, so as long as you are not perpetually sucking on acidic drinks or foods, your mouth will naturally go back to a neutral pH. A swish with water after eating or drinking will encourage that.

tldr: Don't worry, drink water.
posted by zennie at 8:07 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Acid erosion is a real thing that can happen, and some people are more vulnerable to it because they have lousy genetics and naturally softer enamel. Enamel erosion can result in cosmetic damage (translucent tooth edges and a dingy colour), mechanical damage (chipped tooth edges or hairline cracks in the teeth), and sensitivity.

You can shift your mouth's acid balance by consuming acidic food and drinks, but you can also get enamel erosion if you have a really dry mouth. This is because saliva doesn't just help dilute acidic foods, but because the fluroide and other minerals in saliva help re-mineralize your teeth. (Your teeth de-mineralize slightly as you eat food, more so if it's acidic, but the saliva in a healthy mouth helps transport those minerals back into your teeth. This is one reason why many dentists recommend sugarless gum after a meal.)

Mouth breathing for prolonged periods (e.g. exercising for long periods of time with your mouth open for air) can also dry up saliva and work against re-mineralization. You know who has some really shitty teeth? Pro cyclists, who spend hours gasping on the road and sucking back those little gel energy packages.

The odds are decent that you have good genetics and good habits and don't have to be very wary. Basic dental hygiene and common sense about food and snacking will be enough for a lot of people. Fluoride toothpaste, soft toothbrushes, and flossing will keep your mouth and enamel healthy.

But if you have older family members with the kind of damage I describe above, or if you are already seeing symptoms, then you have to be a little more rigorous.

- Don't brush your teeth for 30-60 minutes after a meal because you don't want abrasion working against the natural re-mineralization process. Floss if you must, swish water or chew gum if you like, but delay brushing.
- Cut back on the most acidic stuff: all kinds of pop/soda (yes, that includes diet) orange juice, etc.
- Try not to have the last thing in your mouth from a meal be something quite acidic. If you have fruit for dessert, have a little chunk of cheese right after.
- See if you can switch to three meals a day, no snacks. Eating causes a little de-mineralization, then the re-mineralization process starts up again. If you're eating small amounts several times a day, you're not giving your teeth a chance to build themselves up again.
- Consider using a toothpaste that doesn't just fight sensitivity, but which probably helps rebuild your enamel more than standard fluoride toothpastes. Your dentists may have some toothpaste or rinses with higher levels of fluoride, or you might try something like Sensodyne Repair and Protect with NovaMin. (I have heard that the American version of this product doesn't contain NovaMin: check the label.)

It's not cheap, and I'm not suggesting the whole world go out and buy it, but it's incredibly helpful for some of us. My teeth were sensitive enough a couple of years ago that dental cleanings, which I used to actually enjoy, became very tense. I had to request a topical anesthetic gel at a couple of sessions because of some very sensitive spots, including a tiny bit of dentin exposed due to a bit of receding gum. I could not tolerate ultrasonic cleaning at all and had to have all my cleaning done with picks. Regular sensitivity toothpastes (including standard Sensodyne) helped with day to day sensitivity, but I dreaded my dental hygienists.

But after just a few months with the Sensodyne Repair and Protect toothpaste (Canadian, with NovaMin), my daily sensitivity was gone and dental cleanings were a lot easier. The exposed dentin is almost completely occluded now (barely a twinge even with the deepest cleaning) and I'm pretty comfortable with the ultrasonic cleaner again, too.

tl;dr: Good habits and basic dental hygiene are good enough for most people, but some people will actually benefit from some of those products in combination with some more rigorous habits.
posted by maudlin at 9:59 PM on March 30, 2015 [10 favorites]

Somewhat related, since someone pointed out you didn't mention going to the dentist. Tartar can start building up under the gumline and over time will start eating away at the roots of your teeth, which eventually can cause them to come loose.

For a variety of reasons I avoided going to the dentist for entirely too long, and now I'm paying the price because I have to go get two deep cleanings done this week (one for each side of my mouth).

The treatment isn't for everybody, and some people warn that dentists will try to add on the procedure when you don't need it, but if you go to the dentist and they're measuring your tartar at 4-6 mm instead of 1-3 mm, it's probably legit.

Apologies for being slightly offtopic, but since you're worried about your long-term dental health it's definitely something to discuss with your dentist.
posted by cali59 at 11:25 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

According to my dentist, the best advice for me was:

- Avoid 'whitening' toothpaste
- Brush and floss regularly
- If concerned about enamel, don't rinse all of the toothpaste out of your mouth after brushing, or use a fluoride mouthwash
- Go to a dentist yearly
posted by Ashlyth at 3:32 AM on March 31, 2015

Best answer: One of the natural functions of saliva is to redeposit calcium on your teeth. While you don't think of the exterior of your teeth as something that grows and heals, it does. People with dry mouths have an issue with erosion.

You should live your life carefully, with your responsibility to keep your teeth for a full 80 years or so. However, don't feel that every day is another tiny chip against your limited tooth enamel resource.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 6:44 AM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

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