Tooth Enamel Erosion & Swimming Pools
It’s summertime, who doesn’t want to go in the pool?
Well maybe that childhood friend you had with the in-ground pool…who never wanted to go swimming!
Aside from the beach, lake, river, or any other aquatic respite from the summer heat, lounging in the pool is something we can all relate to.
Whether we’re floating on a raft, bellying up to the bar, or exercising, swimming pools offer a cool, healthy summertime activity.
Swimming is a great total body workout that burns tons of calories, but is it completely safe for your smile?
Aside from the purple pee protector or an overdose of chlorine, there could also be some other hidden dangers lurking in that swimming pool.
In addition to altering hair color and drying out your skin, long periods of swimming in a pool could lead to the erosion of your tooth enamel.
But don’t just take our word for it, according to researchers at NYU College of Dentistry, pools with an imbalance of maintenance chemicals can lead to the rapid erosion of tooth enamel.
“Improperly maintained pool chlorination in swimming pools can cause rapid and excessive erosion of dental enamel,” warned Jahangiri, a clinical associate professor and the Chair of NYUCD’s Department of Prosthodontics.
“It is a difficult balance to maintain home pools properly,” Jahangiri contends. “Proper pool chlorine and pH levels need to be monitored and maintained on a weekly basis.”
“Maintenance by a professional pool service may cost thousands of dollars a season, so many homeowners try and maintain their pools themselves,” Jahangiri said.
“Improper pH levels can result in irreversible damage to one’s teeth,” the good doctor added.
Why Do Swimming Pools Damage Tooth Enamel?
Although many of us aren’t aware how much swimming in pools can damage tooth enamel, this is old news for dentists.
In September 1982, two Charlottesville, Virginia residents were found by their dentists to have general erosion of dental enamel consistent with exposure to acid.
Both patients were competitive swimmers at the same private club pool.
And in 1986, a survey of 747 swimmers published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that 39 percent of competitive swimmers suffered from dental enamel erosion.
The NYU College of Dentistry study released a compilation of enamel damaging data on a 52-year-old male swimmer who had gone to his dentist complaining of tooth sensitivity.
This patient also reported tooth stains to his dentist. Upon examination, tooth enamel loss was clear, and this had occurred over a relatively short amount of time – only five months.
When the pool rat in question was questioned by the dentist, the culprit of the sensitivity and staining wasn’t the cavity creeps, it was his 90-minute daily swimming routine in his backyard pool.
How Can Your Protect Your Tooth Enamel When Swimming?
The answer is to properly maintain your swimming pool, pools are supposed to have a pH balance.
This balance in pH levels occurs with the use of chemicals which help keep the water healthy and safe, so we can enjoy our swim without having to worry about damaging our smile.
The problems (damage to tooth enamel) happen when the pH balance of the pool water drops too low – becomes too acidic.
Remember learning about pH in junior high science class, or high school chemistry?
We’ve all been in a pool when your eyes start to water, what causes this is the low pH level – not too much chlorine as we’ve sometimes been told.
To protect yourself – and your smile – from tooth enamel erosion by swimming pool, you can purchase some pH test strips, they’re pretty inexpensive and you can buy them on Amazon.
The optimal pH of a swimming pool is between 7.2 and 7.8. To test this, read the directions on the box, then just take your trusty pH test strips and dip them in the water.
Why Does A Low pH Level In A Pool Damage Tooth Enamel?
When the pH of pool water drops too low, it becomes corrosive. This can lead to staining on the surface of teeth and skin irritation.
Remember that NYU study?
In that case, the pH of the pool water was discovered to be 2.7. The recommended pH of the average swimming pool is 7.2 to 7.8.
Why was this guy’s pool so low in pH levels?
The gentleman backyard swimmer admitted to never having his pool maintained by a professional, and didn’t even know the pool’s pH.
He figured he could save a few dollars by taking the DIY approach.
Only after experiencing the extensive damage to his tooth enamel (and smile), the aquatic aficionado in question quickly realized that paying a professional to properly maintain his pool was worth the cost after all…
Much like paying for biannual preventative visits to your dentist will ultimately save you money on the long run by preventing small dental health issues from becoming larger – more expensive – oral & overall health problems.
After all, there’s never any reason for DIY dentistry!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on the dental health blog of Dr. Frank Maldonado and has been republished here with permission. It has since been updated for accuracy & comprehensiveness.