An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it may send you straight to the dentist with a smile damaged by acid wear. Sound absurd? Unfortunately, it's not. Recent studies have shown that traditional health foods may just be doing more damage to our teeth than soda and energy drinks.
To find out the truth, we spoke with Sydney-based dentist, Dr. Alistair Graham, who has been in practice for more than 15 years.
What causes acid wear?
Dr Graham sees people with acid wear most days and says most of them don't realise their "healthy" habits are harming their teeth.
"When we think we're doing the right thing, it can actually cause more trouble than we originally assumed," he says. "People who are constantly grazing through the day... eating frequently in small bursts, are definitely more prone to getting acid wear. There's certainly a higher risk of developing acid wear problems."
"It's better to have any acid drink or a low pH drink or food at meal times. After you eat or drink it takes a while for your mouth to recover, so if you're doing that constantly throughout the day you're constantly in that "danger zone". So it's better that you confine it to meal times."
Increased consumption of soft drinks, sports drinks, wine and beer is an obvious cause of acid wear, which Dr Graham says has only worsened in his practice over the past five or six years.
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But while most people are aware these beverages are not altogether healthy, and therefore limit their intake of them, they don't realise healthy foods can cause acid wear too.
In fact, last year, a study conducted by the King's College London Dental Institute concluded that apples may be worse for your teeth than some fizzy drinks, as they can contain up to four teaspoons of sugar per serve and high acidic levels.
Dr Graham says that it's not always obvious which foods contain acids and that quite often they can be healthy foods, such as apples, which can make things problematic.
How can I tell if I have acid wear?
"Acid erosion occurs as a slow progression," explains Dr Anthony Burges, a NSW-based dental surgeon and Council member of the Australian Dental Association.
"Initially the surface of the tooth will become smoother and there may be colour changes in the teeth such as increased translucency of the front teeth making them look darker."
Other signs of acid wear can include:
- Increased sensitivity to cold, heat or sweet food and drink; chipping of teeth (especially the front teeth);
- The back teeth becoming rougher on the biting surface; and
- As it progresses, fillings may also become more prominent as they are not dissolved, unlike the tooth.
"Acid wear is not a reversible process," says Dr Burges. "Once it has occurred the natural tooth cannot be regenerated, it can only be stopped and possibly repaired if it has been significant."
But, extensive dental work is also associated with large dental bills, so the best way to minimise the impact of acid wear is prevention.
How can we avoid acid wear?
Avoiding acid wear doesn't necessarily mean you can't snack on an apple in between meals, or enjoy a casual glass of wine.
As with all things, "moderation is the ideal that we're after," says Dr Graham.
Here are his top tips on how to avoid acid wear:
- Do not brush teeth straight after eating; wait at least half an hour for the enamel to re-strengthen;
- Aim to consume any acid drink or a low pH drink or food at meal times, rather than as a snack;
- Chew sugar-free gum. This stimulates saliva which acts as a natural buffer and neutralise acid in the mouth; and
- Use a gentler toothpaste like Pronamel it's low abrasive and very good for minimising damage that can occur with acid.