How to Identify Acid Exposure

Over-consuming acidic, sugar-infused beverages leads to a variety of health issues. The increased consumption of soft drinks and sports drinks over the past few decades has not only adversely affected teeth; it also is associated with poor bone health, diabetes and obesity.

Health care professionals can screen for excessive acid exposure by visually inspecting teeth for some simple clues. Decay affects the smooth surfaces of teeth, and in the beginning is signaled by a white area known as “decalcification.” A dull appearance plus a white decalcified area indicates excessive acid exposure, the precursor to decay.

A more advanced stage of acid damage involves losing enamel. In bulimia the tongue side (lingual) of anterior teeth erodes. Dentin is darker than enamel and more sensitive. Those who swish acidic drinks also exhibit worn lingual surfaces and thin or broken anterior teeth. It is often evident to a trained eye on which side a person swishes his or her drink, due to loss of enamel in the premolar and molar area.

When looking at lower molars, a phenomenon known as “cupping,” or rounding of edges, occurs on the cusp tips. The saucer shape often exposes the darker dentin, and these teeth will be more sensitive.

Primary teeth will show signs of acid wear often to a greater extent than permanent teeth. In adults, decay on the incisal edges of upper or lower teeth indicates an acidic environment and perhaps a dry mouth.

Info for Health Care Professionals

Talk to your patients about consumption of bad drinks:

  • Rule out GERD and bulimia.
  • Ask how many sports drinks and soft drinks and how much juice or other low-pH drinks the patient consumes per week, and in what serving size.
  • Ask whether the patient consumes the drink slowly over time. Does he or she make the drink last all morning, afternoon or through the entire game?
  • Prescribe additional fluoride, rinse or prescription toothpastes.

Health care professionals should advise patients to:

  • Limit acidic drinks
  • Use a straw to draw acidic liquid away from the teeth
  • Never drink acidic drinks when a dry mouth is present
  • Drink water to rehydrate and return the mouth to a neutral pH
  • Chew gum with Xylitol to help restore a neutral pH
  • Wait one hour to brush after drinking a sports drink or soft drink to allow enamel to re-harden after an acid attack