Dental Erosion and Caries


We have all heard the terms Dental caries and Acid erosion, but do we really know what it all means?

Caries and erosion are becoming increasingly common problems, therefore we thought it would be great to share some information and helpful tips with you to ensure your teeth stay healthy!


What is Dental Caries?

Dental caries or decay is a common disease which causes discolouration and eventual cavitation (tooth mineral loss) of both permanent and “baby” teeth.  As the disease or decay progresses, the tooth becomes weaker and eventually nerve damage or infection may result.


How is it caused?

The caries disease is controlled by many factors including bacteria (dental plaque) and also sugars.  Dental decay occurs when bacteria metabolise sugar in the mouth to make acid which then dissolves the tooth (demineralisation).  When the balance between demineralisation and reminaralisation is lost tooth decay may occur.


How can we prevent dental caries?

If you have a sensible diet, a good flow of saliva, a cleaning routine and your teeth get an appropriate fluoride exposure, you are unlikely to get decay. So, you can prevent decay by:

  • Being careful with how often you eat sugary foods or have sugary drinks.
  • Brushing and flossing your teeth carefully to reduce the amount of bacteria on their surfaces.
  • Using fluoride toothpaste.  This will make the surfaces of teeth more resistant to acid. The fluoride in our water supply strengthens the developing teeth of infants and children.


What is acid wear/ erosion?

Dental erosion is the gradual process whereby enamel mineral is slowly lost or worn away from the tooth surface.  It results in a thinned, translucent /yellowing appearance of the teeth.  In fact tooth sensitivity or fracture may result if the condition is severe.   This process does not involve bacteria/ dental plaque.


How is it caused?

Acids regularly consumed from common food items such as citrus fruits, vinegar or soft drinks can dissolve/erode the enamel off teeth by the washing/ bathing action.  The acid causes the tooth surface to loose minerals from the surface.    Acid erosion cannot be reversed however people can take steps to protect their teeth against further progression.


How to prevent/control dental erosion?

  • Decrease intake and frequency of acidic foods/drinks eg. soft drinks, juices, sports drinks
  • Swallow fizzy drinks and fruit juices quickly (straw). Do no swish them around or hold them in the mouth.
  • Avoid brushing immediately after consuming acidic food or drinks as this is when the enamel is the softest. Rinse with water or chew sugarfree gum instead.
  • Regularly drink water to prevent dehydration so that salivary flow is maintained to protect the teeth from acid.



Why is saliva important?

Saliva is a natural substance in the mouth which contains many minerals, proteins and antibacterial properties.  Our saliva is used to lubricate the mouth, cleanse the teeth and gums and also aid in metabolism.  Our saliva helps to neutralise acids after eating and drinking so that the mouth doesn’t remain acidic for too long, it helps to fight infections and replace lost minerals from the tooth.  Saliva is very important in preventing dental caries.


What happens when my saliva is inadequate?

If the saliva quality is poor or if not enough is being produced then the balance of demineralistion and remineraliseation is tipped in favour of demineralisation and tooth substance may be lost resulting in decay or erosion.  We may also have a dry mouth feeling which can be uncomfortable and also result in mouth infections.  Some medications/ medical conditions may increase the risk of dry mouth as can low fluid intake. We need to make sure good hydration in maintained throughout the day.


How can my diet contribute to dental disease?

Although sugar is an essential part of the diet, it contributes to tooth decay.  It is possible to maintain healthy teeth if knowledge of dental disease is used to alter unhealthy habits.

Some interesting facts:

  • The longer sugar stays in the mouth and the more frequently sweets are eaten the more opportunity acids have to form and attack the teeth.
  • Stickier sweets stay in the mouth for longer and are more harmful than non-sticky sweets .
  • Sweets are less harmful to the teeth if eaten with a main meal rather than between meals.
  • Table sugar is more harmful than sugars that are contained naturally in fruits and milk.
  • Artificial sweeteners are a better option than table sugar as they cannot be metabolized by the bacteria in the mouth.
  • Beware,” Light” or “lite” may mean low in fat but it does not always mean low in sugar. READ THE LABELS CAREFULLY!!!


Reference: ADA website