Acid erosion a rising dental problem

July 23, 2009 9:19:08 PM PDT
From the time kids learn to brush their teeth, cavities are the big worry. However, dentists say another threat to a good smile is being overlooked.

Anne Sweet of Doylestown, Pa. , has seen her dentist a lot in recent years.

"My teeth became sensitive," she says. "I had extreme sensitivity to hot, to cold, and just to pressure."

Dentist Dr. Beth Snyder discovered that the enamel on Ann's teeth was wearing away.

She says she's seeing more patients with this type of enamel erosion in recent years, and it can be devastating.

"It can have as profound an effect as total bite changes, and headaches, and jaw pain, and earaches," says Dr. Snyder, whose practice is in Doylestown.

The erosion comes from exposure to acid.

And there are many sources -

Acid reflux from the stomach.

Medications that dry the mouth, or change the pH balance of saliva, such as some anti-depressants.

Even too much chlorine in swimming pools.

But teeth get the most acid from what we eat & drink -

Things like citrus fruit -

"Lemon is the worst, the worst, followed by grapefruit, followed by orange juice," says Dr. Mohammed Bassiouny of Temple University.

Wine, ketchup, mustard, and many hot sauces are also high in acid.

However, Dr. Bassiouny and other dental experts think soft drinks are doing the most damage.

They point to citric and phosphoric acids - key ingredients in many soft drinks, energy drinks, and powdered beverages like iced tea and lemonade.

Dr. Bassiouny says his and other studies show that 4 eight-ounce glasses a week raises the risk for erosion.

But on- average Americans drink much more.

"They are consuming at least 4 times that amount," says Dr. Bassiouny, who has published numerous studies on the impact of acidic beverages and foods. He's had at least 4 studies published by the Academy of General Dentisty.

In fact, according to beverage industry analysts, the average American drinks an estimated 56 gallons of soft drinks per year. The amount has boomed in recent years, and continues to climb, with the popularity of energy drinks, and flavored waters.

Anne says she used to drink nearly 8 glasses of diet powered lemonade...thinking a no-sugar drink would be better for her teeth.

But Dr. Snyder says, "It's not the sugar that's the problem, it's the acid."

She adds that the habit of sipping a beverage throughout the work day is especially damaging.

"Your mouth can neutralize acid, but it takes more than half an hour. Constantly sipping constantly bathes your teeth in acid," she says.

The American Beverage Association disagrees. A spokesperson told News the role of soft drinks in dental erosion is over-played.

The industry group says, "there is no single cause of dental erosion..."

"...individual susceptibility to dental disease can vary depending on genetics, dietary habits, and oral hygiene habits."

Many dentists agree these other factors also play a role, but believe soda and other soft drinks are the biggest culprit.

Howard Blaker of Warminster, Pa., began his love of soda as a teenager.

He had access to a soda machine where he worked, and often drank 6 or 8 cans a day.

"I like cold, carbonated, sweet beverages," he told Action News. "I can still drink a quart at a time."

Now, 50 years later, he's had very few cavities, but many of Howard's teeth are barely above the level of his gums.

Anne had to have extensive work to restore her teeth, and eliminate the sharp, frquent headaches caused by imbalances in her bite.

Now, with the surface of her teeth restored, she's watching what she drinks.

"Try to stick with water, or flavored water, or watering things down," says Anne.

To cut your risk for acid erosion, dentists say try not to sip a soft drink over a long period of time. That continually exposes your teeth to the acid...and doesn't give your saliva a chance to neutralize it.

Also Don't brush your teeth right away after drinking soda..It's better to just rinse your mouth with water.

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