Throughout most of our lives, we’ve been taught that brushing with a good toothpaste and flossing daily are enough to sustain our oral health. Couple that with a semi-regular cleaning from the dentist, and our teeth and gums are taken care of. However, if you’ve ever experienced oral health issues before, such as frequent cavities, gum disease or even tooth decay, then your dentist may have informed you that there’s a lot more to oral health than most of us realize.
Tooth enamel is the most durable substance in the human body. Its function is to protect your teeth from the everyday wear and tear they endure, which ultimately protects them from decaying. Tooth enamel is made up of most minerals, like calcium and phosphate, so when those minerals begin to dissolve, it is called “demineralization.” Because of how enamel is formed, the body is unable to regenerate it once it’s gone. This is why it is important to know to prevent demineralization, and also important to understand how remineralization can contribute to your oral health.
What causes enamel erosion?
While there a few different factors involved, most demineralization occurs because of prolonged exposure to acids and bacteria. Acidic conditions in the mouth are caused by what we consume—foods we eat, beverages we drink, and even certain medications or drugs that cause dehydration. Foods and drinks that are known to be acid-forming include those that are high in refined sugar, energy beverages, processed foods, and alcohol. Simple carbohydrates are easily digested by a bacterial plague which produces destructive acids at the point of surface contact, and once having formed decay, inside the dentinal tubules of the tooth. Additionally, alkaline-forming foods, such as the citric acid in some fruits, will cause topical surface erosion if not immediately buffered by a neutral, or better, alkaline mouthwash.
Sometimes, these acidic substances cause our saliva to become too acidic, nutrient-deficient, or they cause chronic dry-mouth—all of which are directly linked to enamel erosion. However, certain conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, where acids from the stomach make their way into the oral cavity, can also be responsible for an acidic mouth, thereby causing enamel erosion.
Although enamel cannot reform once it’s gone, it is possible to replenish the minerals that makeup enamel to prevent complete erosion and strengthen the denuded organic matrix. Since oral acidity causes demineralization, the best way to restore those minerals is through an alkaline lifestyle. Alkaline habits promote healthy saliva, which contains buffers to neutralize acids and balance the oral microbiome in favor of less cariogenic bacteria. This happens because healthy saliva contains calcium and phosphate ions, which are released upon exposure to the oral cavity and attach to tooth enamel in an alkaline environment, instead of being leached out by acids.
Alkaline oral care products can currently be found in mouthwash and toothpaste. It is important to use these products daily for best results. To enhance their benefits, make sure you maintain a low acid diet by reducing your intake of processed and sugary foods.