Tooth decay and tooth erosion – what’s the difference?

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Tooth decay and tooth erosion are not the same – but they can both cause progressive long-term damage to your teeth. If you experience both oral conditions at the same time, the process of tooth damage speeds up even more.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay occurs as a result of dental plaque. Plaque is a sticky bio-film that forms when bacteria, food residue and saliva components combine. The bacteria in plaque thrive on foods high in refined sugar and carbohydrates. The acidic by-products create a highly acidic environment around your teeth.

Gradually, the bacterial acid begins to break down your tooth enamel to form cavities – especially in all the tiny crevices, nooks and crannies of your teeth that are hard-to-brush areas. This is the tooth decay process at work, and at this point you’ll need a filling by your dentist.

If left untreated, plaque, tartar and decay will eventually penetrate deep into your inner tooth to form large cavities, and down the outer tooth surfaces below the gum line. At this stage, your risk of experiencing critical tooth damage, tooth loss, gum infection or gum disease is very high.

What is tooth erosion?

Tooth erosion usually occurs over the entire outer surfaces of the teeth that have been exposed to highly acidic food and beverages. It is the most common chronic oral condition among Australian children aged 5 to 17.

Tooth erosion (also known as acid erosion or dental erosion) was not widely recognised until fairly recently, when the damaging erosion effects of acidic food and drinks – with a PH below 5.0 to 5.7 – became known. One of the factors contributing to high tooth erosion rates in Australian kids is the mistaken belief that processed fruit juices are healthy beverages. Excessive consumption of soft drink, beer and alcohol with high sugar levels can also erode tooth enamel.

Another type of tooth erosion can occur through wear and tear, due to malocclusion (misaligned bites) and bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching).

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Prevention

It is important to safeguard your teeth against tooth decay, tooth erosion and other risks. Pro-active preventative care – to ensure the life-long health of your teeth – includes the following healthy habits and positive actions:

  • Brush thoroughly twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste. Don’t forget your tongue.
  • Invest in a high performance electric toothbrush for super clean teeth and gums.
  • See your dentist for check-ups and cleans every six months.
  • Limit or avoid acidic drinks such as alcohol, soft drinks, processed fruit juice and other sweet beverages.
  • Limit or avoid refined sugary foods and carbohydrates – or combinations of both.
  • Ensure adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D for healthier stronger teeth and bones.
  • Protect your teeth from potential sports injury.
  • Seek dental advice and treatment for a malocclusion, or if you experience symptoms of bruxism.
  • Learn the first aid basics in the event of a knocked-out tooth.

 
Once your teeth are seriously damaged, lost or destroyed, they won’t grow back. If you want to keep all your teeth for life, you have to understand and care for your teeth – and recognise the risks to their health as they begin to age and weaken.

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