Changing diets are causing an "epidemic" of tooth enamel erosion, which is irreversible and costly to treat, an Auckland dentist says.
The most common cause of dental erosion was the consumption of acidic food and drinks, such as soft drinks, energy drinks and RTDs, Dr Andrea Shepperson said.
"I'm seeing new cases of dental erosion every day - particularly among university students and young professionals who are consuming large quantities of flavoured drinks."
The prevalence of dental erosion had dramatically increased in the past 20 years, Shepperson said. "It's an epidemic."
She has just finished a lecture series, helping dentists recognise the clinical signs and provide treatment strategies for managing erosion.
"The anecdotal feedback from my colleagues is that we are seeing dental erosion at levels we have not seen in previous decades," she said.
Food acids were just as bad for teeth as sugar.
Soft drinks and energy drinks were specially bad because they had a combination of sugar and food acids. Zero-rated drinks, promoted as "sugar-free" or "diet", were just as damaging with a potent combination of acid and caffeine.
"Caffeine strips away your mouth's natural defence against acidity - saliva. Without saliva to protect you, a dry mouth ensues and the erosion will be much worse."
The high acidity of drinks widely considered healthy - such as herbal teas, sports drinks and fruit juice - could be just as damaging.
In the past, soft drinks and fruit juices used to be an occasional treat, but now many people, especially university students and young professionals, had them every day, Shepperson said.
Dr Neil Croucher, chairperson of the New Zealand Oral Health Clinical Leadership Network Group, said the problem of dental erosion was getting worse, although he did not want to describe it as an epidemic.
"It's something as clinicians we think about a lot more as a factor when we're seeing patients," he said.
Twenty-five years ago the main threats had been dental decay and gum disease.
In his clinical experience seeing patients during the past 20 years, the availability of cheap fizzy drinks was a major factor in the increase of dental erosion, Croucher said.
Working primarily in the public sector, he probably would not be seeing the same sectors of the population as Shepperson was.
Erosion was one of the problems not associated with decay to affect teeth. Others were attrition - teeth on teeth wear - and abrasion - the effect of other items coming into contact with the teeth.
"If you have patients that have erosion issues, attrition and abrasion issues, then it's quite a big problem to solve."