Could you be damaging your tooth enamel without even knowing it?

When sipping on a hot coffee or a glass of wine, the damage you could be doing to your tooth enamel is probably the last thing on your mind.

But it really should be right up-front. Enamel is the hard outer coating on your teeth – it’s the hardest substance your body produces. But it’s still susceptible to damage and can cause serious pain and discomfort if that’s not addressed, according to webMD.

Usually mistakenly identified as being white, tooth enamel is actually clear and allows light to flow through showing the white layer of dentin underneath. If the enamel layer is damaged or discoloured, then the white layer won’t show through and your teeth will appear much darker.

Although very hard, your tooth enamel will eventually start to be worn down by acids contained in food, drink and bacteria left behind in the mouth after eating.

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Sugary food and drink are particularly harmful, as bacteria living in the mouth will feast on the sugars left behind and produce the damaging acid so detrimental to enamel.

When tooth enamel is sufficiently worn, the inner dentin layer can end up exposed and become sensitive to extreme temperatures – both hot and cold. Eating ice cream or consuming a cold drink can quickly turn from a pleasant experience into a very painful one.

Apart from food and drink, certain medical conditions can also lead to enamel damage. Eating disorders such as bulimia can lead to stomach acid entering the mouth through vomiting.

Grinding your teeth (known as bruxism) can also have negative effects as the constant pressure and tension can wear down and even crack the enamel. The effects of bruxism are usually worst when you’re asleep and unable to control it.

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So what can be done to minimise tooth enamel damage?

According to the Victorian government’s Better Health Channel, the best thing you can do to save your teeth is avoid the highly acidic foods that trigger the damage. These include the previously mentioned wine, coffee, tea, sugary drinks, most fruit juices and even vitamin C tablets.

If the foods and drinks to avoid just happen to be some of your favourites, all is not entirely lost. There are some techniques to lessen the effects without giving them up completely.

The most effective technique is to brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste immediately after eating or drinking. If this is not practical, then drinking milk or eating a piece of cheese can neutralise the acid in your mouth.

Chewing sugar-free gum containing xylitol will stimulate saliva production and saliva is a natural remover of mouth acid, so anything that produces more of it will have a neutralising effect.

Like most oral health problems, tooth enamel damage can be mitigated by maintaining good oral hygiene.

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Brushing your teeth gently rather than scouring them, avoiding abrasive toothpastes, regular flossing and using a mouthwash that contains fluoride and specifically targets bacteria will all help to maintain the health of your tooth enamel.

But for the best advice and tips on preserving your tooth enamel, be sure to visit your dentist for regular check-ups.

Have you experienced tooth enamel damage? What were the culprits? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer