Chlorine is an antimicrobial agent used in drinking water and swimming pools to kill harmful bacteria, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And although it's a necessary chemical disinfectant, the effects of chlorine on your teeth can be a cause for concern.
The chlorine included in your tap water is generally not enough to cause a dental problem, but soaking in a backyard jacuzzi or doing laps at your local swimming pool could expose you to water that's too harsh on your enamel.
Chlorine and Your Teeth
Pools with too much chlorine contain pH levels that can cause enamel erosion as water occasionally seeps into your mouth during your swim session. And in recent years, more and more evidence shows the connection between improperly chlorinated pools and tooth damage.
New York University's College of Dentistry collected data in 2010 from a male patient who reported extremely sensitive teeth, dark staining, and rapid enamel loss during the five-month period he began a 90-minute swimming routine in his backyard pool. Having found improper chlorination to be the cause of his enamel erosion, Dr. Leila Jahangiri, who authored the report, noted that pool water does become a threat to your teeth when its pH level falls below 7.
When your enamel wears down, your teeth may become discolored, the edges of your front teeth may look transparent and, in later stages, you may feel extreme dental sensitivity when consuming hot or cold foods. Once this enamel erodes, chips or even cracks, the body can't repair it – which is why toothpastes such as Colgate® Enamel Health™ Sensitivity Relief exist to keep your teeth strong before this material disappears.
Protecting Your Teeth from Chlorine
Given that the pH level of water is invisible to the naked eye, how do you know if it's safe to take a dip? Follow these two tips to keep your teeth healthy during your water workout or relaxing soak in the hot tub.
When in a public pool or on a tropical vacation, take notice of pool linings, railings, and ladders. Pool water that's too acidic will eat away at these surfaces. If you notice spots of erosion, the water may do the same to your teeth, so consider skipping your swim or pursuing a natural (but supervised) body of water. Pool pH strips are also common to local recreational supply stores, and allow you to test the water before wading in. According to the CDC, pool water should register between 7.2 and 7.8 on the pH scale.
If you're a homeowner, you might attempt to save money by maintaining your own backyard pool – but this can be tricky. Check your pool's pH balance once a week at a minimum, and budget permitting, hire a specialist to examine it upon your first use.
Ultimately, brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush, having regular teeth cleanings and using a toothpaste specifically designed for the health of your enamel can keep your teeth strong and help modulate the effects of chlorine.