Understanding the chemistry of dental erosion

Monogr Oral Sci. 2006;20:66-76. doi: 10.1159/000093351.


The mineral in our teeth is composed of a calcium-deficient carbonated hydroxyapatite (Ca10-xNax(PO4)6-y(CO3)z(OH)2-uFu). These substitutions in the mineral crystal lattice, especially carbonate, renders tooth mineral more acid soluble than hydroxyapatite. During erosion by acid and/or chelators, these agents interact with the surface of the mineral crystals, but only after they diffuse through the plaque, the pellicle, and the protein/lipid coating of the individual crystals themselves. The effect of direct attack by the hydrogen ion is to combine with the carbonate and/or phosphate releasing all of the ions from that region of the crystal surface leading to direct surface etching. Acids such as citric acid have a more complex interaction. In water they exist as a mixture of hydrogen ions, acid anions (e.g. citrate) and undissociated acid molecules, with the amounts of each determined by the acid dissociation constant (pKa) and the pH of the solution. Above the effect of the hydrogen ion, the citrate ion can complex with calcium also removing it from the crystal surface and/or from saliva. Values of the strength of acid (pKa) and for the anion-calcium interaction and the mechanisms of interaction with the tooth mineral on the surface and underneath are described in detail.

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / chemistry
  • Carbonates / chemistry
  • Chelating Agents / chemistry
  • Citric Acid / chemistry
  • Crystallography
  • Dental Enamel / chemistry
  • Dental Pellicle / chemistry
  • Dental Plaque / chemistry
  • Dentin / chemistry
  • Diffusion
  • Durapatite / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Lipids / chemistry
  • Phosphates / chemistry
  • Protons
  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides / chemistry
  • Solubility
  • Tooth / chemistry*
  • Tooth Erosion / metabolism*


  • Carbonates
  • Chelating Agents
  • Lipids
  • Phosphates
  • Protons
  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides
  • Citric Acid
  • Durapatite
  • Calcium