Dental erosion is the erosion of the surface of your teeth, including the tooth enamel, due to acids you eat or drink, or acids coming up from your stomach. These acids can dissolve the crystals that make up your teeth, which leads to tooth surface loss. Additionally, these acids can soften the tooth surface, making it easier for them to be worn away by abrasion or tooth grinding (acid wear).

Stomach acids can erode teeth

The stomach contains many strong acids that are used to digest food. Vomiting and reflux can cause these stomach acids to enter your mouth. Examples include bulimia, reflux (sometimes this can occur without you knowing), or morning sickness. The stomach acids are very strong and can cause substantial damage to the teeth.

Dietary sources of acid

It is surprising how many things that we eat and drink are acidic. One of the reasons for this is that acidic things taste nice. A number of common foods or drinks contain high levels of acid, including:
  • soft drinks (sugar-free and sugar-containing)
  • sports drinks
  • energy drinks
  • citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges)
  • lemon-flavoured drinks or teas
  • fruit-flavoured lollies
  • most fruit juices
  • most cordials
  • vitamin waters
  • vitamin C tablets
  • vinegar
  • wine
  • pre-mixed alcoholic drinks.
If you check the ingredient list of foods and drinks, you can see if food acids have been added. The ingredients are listed in order of their amount in the food, with the most being listed first, therefore the closer to the start of the list, the more acid the product will have in it. In particular, watch out for food acids 330 (citric acid) and 331 (sodium citrate), as citric acid is especially bad for teeth. For further information speak to your dental professional.

Symptoms of dental erosion

One sign of dental erosion is the loss of the surface of the tooth leading to a smooth, shiny appearance. Dental erosion can also make any exposed tooth root (dentine) sensitive to hot and cold. Signs of dental erosion on the back teeth include the formation of depressions on the biting surface of the teeth. Fillings may start to become more prominent if the surrounding tooth surface is dissolving away due to erosion.

Complications of dental erosion

Dental erosion, if untreated, can lead to the progressive loss of the surface of the tooth. The loss of tooth structure can require complex and lengthy treatment involving fillings, veneers, crowns and potentially root canal treatment. When the signs of dental erosion are detected, it is very important to determine the cause and modify it.

Prevention of tooth erosion

Dental erosion can be prevented by limiting contact of acids with the teeth. Some tips include:
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Drink fluoridated water rather than soft drink or juice.
  • Eat fruit rather than drinking its juice.
  • Reduce how often you eat or drink anything acidic.
  • Use a straw if you are drinking something acidic.
  • Seek medical treatment for management of reflux or vomiting.
  • Do not chew vitamin C tablets.
  • Using sugar-free chewing gum after meals can promote saliva flow. Saliva is very important for protecting your teeth from erosion.
Following exposure to strong acids, you can help to neutralise the acid by:
  • rinsing your mouth with a sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) mouth rinse (one teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate in a glass of water)
  • consuming dairy products
  • rinsing with water or a fluoride mouth rinse.
Tips to minimise tooth wear include:
  • Use a soft-bristled tooth brush with fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Do not use abrasive toothpastes (some whitening toothpastes are more abrasive).
  • Wear a splint if you grind your teeth at night.

Saliva can help reduce dental erosion

Saliva is a powerful natural defense against erosion. Saliva can wash acids out of your mouth into the stomach, it can neutralise acid, and it can repair the early stages of tooth softening by repairing tooth mineral. However, it cannot restore the lost tooth surface. A reduced flow of saliva (dry mouth) can increase your risk of dental erosion.

Stay well hydrated, as this improves your saliva. Remember that dehydration can reduce the amount of saliva you make, so drink lots of fluoridated water.

If you have a constant dry mouth, you may be at increased risk of dental erosion and you should consult your dental professional to identify the cause.

Causes of reduced saliva

Causes of reduced saliva (or dry mouth syndrome) may include:
  • Medications – some can affect your salivary glands and reduce the amount of saliva that they can make, leading to a dry mouth.
  • Dehydration – working in a dry environment and not rehydrating often enough can lead to a decrease in saliva production. Also, excessive intake of caffeine found in coffee, tea, chocolate and cola drinks can reduce fluid levels in the body and reduce saliva.
  • Some specific diseases or conditions can affect the saliva glands, such as Sjogren's syndrome.

Treatment for dental erosion

The lost surface of the tooth may need to be replaced with filling materials or crowns. It is important to visit your dental professional regularly so that they can identify it early, determine the cause, and then work with you to develop strategies to prevent further dental erosion and tooth wear.

Where to get help

  • Your dentist or oral health professional
  • Your public oral health service
  • Community dental clinic Tel. 1300 360 054
  • The Royal Dental Hospital Melbourne,
    - General dental enquiries Tel. (03) 9341 1000 or 1800 833 039 (from rural Victoria) Monday to Friday, 8:30 am to 5 pm.
    - Emergency service Tel. 1300 360 054 Monday to Friday 8.30 am to 9.15 pm, weekends and public holidays 9 am to 9.15 pm
  • Australian Dental Association Tel. (03) 8825 4600

Things to remember

  • Dental erosion is the dissolution of the surface of your teeth due to acids you eat or drink, or acids coming up from your stomach.
  • Saliva can wash acids out of your mouth into your stomach, neutralise acid in your mouth and repair the early stages of tooth softening by repairing tooth mineral.
  • Visit your dentist regularly so tooth erosion is detected early, helping prevent further tooth surface loss.

More information

Mouth and teeth

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This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch

Last updated: November 2014

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.