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Tooth enamel erosion an ‘epidemic’

Thursday 22 November, 2012

Tooth enamel erosion an ‘epidemic’

New Zealanders are undoing decades of progress in oral health - and it's not decay that’s the issue

Overseas research shows up to 60% of New Zealanders could be suffering from dental erosion,* according to a top dentist.

Leading dentist Dr. Andrea Shepperson says that the prevalence of dental erosion has dramatically increased in the past 20 years – across all age groups.

“I’m seeing new cases of dental erosion every day – particularly among university students and young professionals who are consuming large quantities of flavoured drinks," she says. “It’s an epidemic.”

Dental erosion is the chemical dissolving of tooth enamel, caused by high acidity in the mouth. This is most commonly due to consumption of acidic (low-pH) food and drinks,** such as soft drinks, energy drinks and RTDs.

Dr. Shepperson says that once the damage is done, it can’t be reversed.

“Once the strong outer layer of the tooth has been eroded, the rate of wear is accelerated. At best, it creates a thin, fragile and yellowed smile. At worst the loss of supportive enamel contributes to bite collapse and very sensitive teeth.”

Dr. Shepperson says that although many people know that sugar is bad for teeth, not many are aware that food acids are equally damaging. Food acids occur naturally and are added to many foods as a preservative. They are also added to counteract the sweetness of food as we add more and more sugar to our diet.

“Soft drinks and energy drinks are especially dangerous, because they contain a lethal combination of sugar and food acids. Zero-rated drinks that are promoted as ‘sugar-free’ or ‘diet’ are just as damaging, with a potent combination of acid and caffeine."

"Caffeine strips away your mouth’s natural defence against acidity – saliva. Without saliva to protect you, a dry mouth ensues and the erosion will be much worse.”

Just as alarmingly, the high acidity of drinks that are widely considered healthy can be just as damaging - products such as herbal teas, sports drinks and fruit juice.

“The main issue is the way we’re consuming these products. Soft drinks and fruit juices used to be an occasional ‘treat.’ But now many people, especially university students and young professionals, are consuming them on a daily basis,” says Dr. Shepperson.

Dr Shepperson has just completed a lecture series to assist dentists in recognising the clinical signs and provide treatment strategies for managing erosion. "The anecdotal feedback from my colleagues is that we are seeing dental erosion at levels we have not seen in previous decades."

"It occurs insidiously, without the patient being aware of it in the early stages. The damage is often quite advanced by the time I see a patient, resulting in costly rebuilds. The only way to treat dental erosion is to replace the tooth enamel using composite resins or porcelain. We work with patients to offer a range of solutions using these materials, and the cost can be substantial for many patients."

Dr. Shepperson says that despite its prevalence, dental erosion isn’t measured in New Zealand.

“It’s unfortunate that dental erosion is not measured as part of the current framework of the New Zealand Oral Health Survey,”*** says Dr. Shepperson. “Until we have measurable data, we’re unable to determine the true extent of the problem.

“But make no mistake, the prevalence of high-acidity drink consumption is the direct cause of most dental erosion,” she says. “And I’m getting new cases every day.”

Top five offenders to avoid

Caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks
Sports drinks
Fruit juice, including wine
Citrus, fruit and berry herbal teas
Lemon detox drinks

What you can do to prevent dental erosion

Drink water instead of juice or soft drinks
Chew sugar-free gum to encourage the production of saliva
Never brush your teeth straight after consuming an acidic drink
Use a low abrasion formula toothpaste with a high pH and fluoride
Use remineralising products such as Tooth Mousse
Rinse out your mouth after having an acidic drink or piece of fruit
Avoid wine, RTDs and soft drinks just before bed
Limit caffeine to just one cup of coffee or soda per day
See your dentist regularly and ask if you have signs of erosion

ENDS

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