Could Seafood Yield The Answer To Dental Enamel Loss?

Dental erosion is often one of the early stages of tooth decay, and occurs when the surface of your teeth breaks down, leaving you susceptible to infection and decay. A quarter of Americans over the age of 65 have lost all of their teeth, which means many people opt for dental implants and other remedial measures. Unsurprisingly, researchers continue to investigate new ways to help completely avoid the problem, and one research team has discovered a potential remedy from a most unlikely source – seafood.

The challenge of dental erosion

Dental erosion (or acid wear) is a common condition where the surface of your teeth gradually degrades. Acids in certain types of food and drink dissolve the crystals that form the structure of your teeth, allowing the surface to wear away. The acidic effect of food and drink can also soften the tooth, which makes it easier for the bone to wear away through abrasion.

The enamel that covers your teeth is pretty tough, but constant exposure to acidic substances will eventually take its toll. Unfortunately, once the enamel on your teeth wears away, there's nothing you or your dentist can do to replace it. Treatment options include tooth bonding (applying resin to the damaged areas) or veneers that cover the surface of the teeth. If tooth decay is severe, you may need to consider a filling or a dental implant like a crown.

Symptoms of dental erosion

One of the early signs of dental erosion is tooth sensitivity. As acid wears away the enamel, the tooth root (or dentine) becomes more vulnerable, particularly when you eat hot or cold food. You can also sometimes spot visible signs of dental erosion, as the teeth start to appear smooth and shiny. In serious cases, fillings and implants may even become more prominent as the adjacent teeth start to dissolve.

Brushing, flossing and good dental hygiene can all help prevent enamel erosion. That aside, scientists are also investigating new ways to restore damaged dentin.

What do mussels have to do with it?

A 2012 study published in Applied Materials & Interfaces has found a link between the common sea mussel and a solution for enamel erosion. Researchers noted that the creature uses a special adhesive (dopamine) to stick to rocks underwater. By replicating that natural substance, researchers developed an exciting new technique that could deal with sensitive teeth and enamel erosion.

As part of the research, the study team dipped human tooth particles in an acidic solution that dissolved the enamel. Next, they coated the teeth in dopamine solution, before immersing the particles in a mixture of calcium carbonate, phosphate and fluoride. After a week in the calcium carbonate solution, the enamel on the tooth particles had started to reform.

The researchers concluded that the dopamine adhesive had allowed the minerals in the calcium carbonate solution to bond back to the dentin, restoring the tooth's hard outer layer. While the particles still showed some signs of erosion and sensitivity, the teeth generally showed significant improvements.

A more recent study aimed to find out why the mussel's natural adhesive is so effective underwater. Researchers found that the glue contains a special molecule (catechol) that pushes water out of the way. This allows the mussel to bind to any surface more easily. What's more researchers also believe that it's possible to replicate this property in a product that is non-toxic.

Steps you can take to prevent dental erosion now

Until scientists find a way to use the mussel's properties to restore worn enamel, it's vital that you and your family take steps to prevent erosion.

Steps to consider include:

  • Cutting down on sugary, fizzy drinks.
  • Drinking quickly, through a straw. This stops the drink touching your teeth.
  • Waiting an hour after eating to brush your teeth. Acidity in the mouth can soften the enamel, which the brushing motion than scrubs away.

There's also a good reason behind the tradition of eating cheese after a meal, too. Cheese can neutralize the acid in your mouth, cutting the risk of erosion after a sweet, sugary dessert. Encourage kids to drink milk if they won't eat cheese.

Dental erosion can eventually lead to decay or tooth loss, which can cause a lot of pain and extra dental treatment. Scientists continue to develop new ways to combat erosion, but it's still important to look after your teeth with the help of professionals at places like