Caroline Daniels had always prided herself on the fact she ate a healthy diet, exercised regularly and avoided too much alcohol. On nights out with friends, she’d sip on Coke, rather than wine, and every day she drank fruit juice rather than teas and coffees.
But then, two years ago, she started suffering agonising pains in her teeth.
‘Just a sip of cold orange juice would send a sharp pain through my teeth and up towards my gums,’ says the 54-year-old assistant shop manager from Epsom, Surrey. ‘And cold fizzy drinks were just as bad. The pain was enough to make me wince or even gasp out loud. It got to the point where I’d leave my drink untouched.’
Over the next six months, the pain got steadily worse, until finally Caroline went to see her dentist. He explained she had widespread damage to her tooth enamel. The hard, protective enamel had eroded away, exposing the dentine - the softer layer underneath. The dentine naturally has small holes in it leading to the nerves. But now, without the protective enamel, anything hot or cold was able to penetrate through these holes to the nerves, causing pain.
‘I asked him how this could be possible,’ says Caroline. ‘I’d always been so diligent about brushing my teeth after every meal.’ Her dentist then explained that her fruit juice and fizzy drink intake - three large glasses of orange juice a day and the occasional Coke - were the problem. The sugar and acid in the juices had attacked the enamel of my teeth, and the fizzy drinks would not have helped. I was amazed, because I’d thought I was being so healthy.’
What’s more, Caroline was making the situation worse by brushing her teeth immediately after drinking. This is because the enamel is softened for up to an hour after drinking acidic juices, making it vulnerable to aggressive brushing.
Dental erosion is an increasingly common problem. Unlike decay, where parts of the tooth are attacked by bacteria in the mouth, dental erosion is caused by acid.