It has long been known that acids can erode tooth enamel. However, a novel Swedish study from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg claims that strong alkaline substances may perhaps damage teeth too. Apparently, these strong alkaline substances are substances with high pH values which can destroy parts of the organic content of the tooth thereby leaving the enamel more vulnerable.
Enamel is known to be the body’s hardest tissue which forms a layer over the teeth that is up to two millimeters thick. It was estimated that only two percent of the enamel is organic material, with the rest comprising various minerals and water.
The organic component is noted to be made up of protein, lipids and citrate, whereas the inorganic component is made up of calcium hydroxylapatite and calcium fluorapatite. It was believed that occupational injuries from reconditioning of cars attracted the attention of the authors. The common denominator seems to have been an exposure to an alkaline degreaser that was sprayed onto various parts of the cars. Supposedly, the spray turned out to be very alkaline, since it had a pH value between 12 and 14.
Jorgen Noren, professor and senior dental officer at the Sahlgrenska Academy stated that, “Exposure to this substance damaged the surface of the teeth resulting in ‘flaked’ enamel. This type of damage markedly increases the risk of caries and other dental damage.”
Alkaline degreasers are believed to have been used in the food industry, among other things to clean professional kitchens. However, they appear to also be common in car care industry and to remove damaged painting.
“Occupational damage to teeth from exposure to alkaline substances is probably not as common as damage from acidic substances, but it becomes a problem when employers fail to inform employees of the risks or do not give them access to the right protective equipment,” elucidates study author, Fabian Taube and an occupational hygienist.
During the study, the authors were observed to have exposed extracted teeth to degreasers and other alkaline solutions. Furthermore, enamel samples were analyzed via a scanning electron microscope along with various spectroscopic methods.
Taube further said that, “However, we were not able to show that alkaline substances change the composition of the minerals that constitute the main component of enamel. In that sense, it differs from the effects of exposure to acids.”
The study authors discovered that organic material on the surface of the tooth seems to dissolve quickly. The findings may possibly signify that the organic components of the enamel are also affected, as the enamel becomes more porous.
Taube was of the opinion that the findings of the study demonstrates that exposure to alkaline substances could perhaps lead to damaged teeth. However, the process seems to be different to that caused by exposure to acidic drinks or acidic industrial vapours.
The findings of the study have been published in the Journal of Dentistry.