On my recent RAGBRAI adventure, I had ample opportunity to ponder beverage choices where hydration is a constant factor and part of the biking experience. Water, sports drinks, soda, and of course the occasional use of alcohol were all options. The impact of beverages choices contributes mightily to how one might experience the ride.
Stopping to fill water bottles in each town was of equal importance (and equally crowded) as finding the port-a-potties! People drink to stay hydrated, keep electrolytes in balance, and perhaps may also use a caffeinated beverage to jump-start the day. Many people also seem to use beer as their beverage of choice.
These choices have an impact on general physical health and well being, alertness (or lack there-of) AND dental health. Problems with beverages from a dental perspective is most often viewed as:
- Causing cavities (from beverages such as soda pop or sports drinks)
- Causing stains on teeth (from beverages such as coffee, tea, and wine)
Both are noteworthy and prevalent concerns. Many beverages do contribute to dental decay and staining tooth enamel.
However, another equally important dental concern is the “tooth melting syndrome”. This erosion of dental enamel is defined as an irreversible loss of dental hard tissue by a chemical process that does not involve bacteria. In other words, it refers to the destruction of teeth in ways that don’t involve cavities or breakage from trauma. Acid from beverages, other liquids such as vinegars, and gastric by-products causes this destruction and breakdown of teeth.
Erosion may also be caused by systemic or internal disorders such as:
- Bulimia or anorexia
- Alcoholism or antabuse treatment
- Gastrointestinal disordesrs such as GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), ulcers and chronic constipation.
While we won’t be involved in treating those issues, it is vitally important that you share that information with us so that we can help you cope with the dental side-effects.
There are also external causes for dental erosion. If you start to read food and beverage labels, look for how many ingredients contain the words “citric” or “phosphoric” acid. Yes, ACID! – The tooth melting variety! Citrus choices such as lemon and limes have the same acidic effect. Many fruits, fruit juices, and essentially all carbonated beverages (including beer) and most sports drinks contain acids. Wine, especially white wines, fall into this category too.
Look at your teeth to see if they are becoming thinner, more translucent, rounded or also sometimes sharper – dental erosion may be happening to your teeth. Talk with us about it. They may be able to help you determine what factors are contributing to the changes that are occurring. If it appears to be an ‘inside’ job, speak with your medical doctor about possible solutions.
To help us better help you, you may wish to keep a dietary record for about 4 days, including a weekend, to determine the ‘erosive’ potential of your diet. You may be surprised by your choices that are contributing, such as herbal teals, vinegar containing dressings, or acidic candies. This helpful website provides more information about the relative acidity or alkalinity of foods and beverages. You may get some surprises there.
If you find that your mouth continues to be exposed to ‘acid attacks’, whether they are internal or external, here are some strategies you can employ to help minimize the impact on your dental health:
DON’T brush your teeth right after an acid exposure. Rather, rinse your mouth thoroughly with water and wait several minutes before brushing.
If the ‘attacks’ are beverages, drink through a straw whenever possible. This reduces your dental enamel’s exposure to the acids.
- Use topical fluorides as much as possible. They help harden enamel surfaces and increase resistance to the damaging effects of the acids.
The best choice? WATER. For RAGBRAI riders and for each of us every day!