The Hardest Substance in Your Body: Understanding Tooth Enamel

Tooth enamel is the most highly mineralized part of your body and cannot be regenerated. Here’s how you can protect it from erosion and halt further decay.

Tooth enamel covers your teeth, protecting them from damage and shielding you from sensitivity when you eat and drink. Tooth decay usually includes some degree of erosion of tooth enamel and can lead to serious problems down the road. Because tooth enamel cannot be regenerated, it’s important to protect it from damage for years to come by sticking to a good oral hygiene routine. Here’s what you should know about tooth enamel, how to protect it, and your options for repairing enamel damage.

What is tooth enamel?

When you look at your teeth, the most visible, semi-translucent outer layer you see covering your teeth is the enamel. Typically its color ranges from white to a grayish white to various degrees of yellow. Although it’s the hardest and the most highly mineralized part of your body (it’s even harder than your bones!), it’s nevertheless susceptible to decay, especially if it’s exposed to bacteria buildup and acid.

What is its function?

Enamel protects your teeth from damage while you eat and drink. It’s hard enough to withstand the pressure when you grind your food while chewing, and it insulates the nerves in your teeth from causing you to feel sensitivity or pain when you eat or drink, including hot and cold substances. It also protects the inner layers of the teeth from damage caused by plaque and acidic food and drink.

What causes enamel erosion?

Unlike with bones or tissue, enamel does not contain any living cells. Therefore your body is unable to replace the enamel because it cannot regenerate. So whenever enamel is destroyed, it’s gone. Also, when enamel erodes, your teeth are more susceptible to decay, resulting in cavities, which can lead to more serious health issues such as infection and even the loss of a tooth.

Erosion of the tooth surface can be caused by corrosion, friction, stress, and everyday wear and tear. Those could be caused by a number of factors, from your diet to your medical or inherited conditions, including the following:

  • Drinking a lot of liquids with high levels of phosphoric and citric acids (this includes most soft drinks, even the diet ones, and many fruit drinks)
  • Medical conditions such as acid reflux disease (GERD) and gastrointestinal issues
  • Dry mouth
  • Some medications, including those that contribute to dry mouth
  • Starch- and sugar-heavy diet
  • Inherited conditions
  • Stress
  • Everyday wear and tear.

Symptoms of Tooth Enamel Disease

As with gum disease, enamel erosion can be subtle at first, but as it progresses, the symptoms become easier to spot and recognize. Those include:

  • Sensitivity. You feel discomfort or pain when you eat or drink something hot, cold, or sweet, or when you brush.
  • Discoloration and teeth appearing more yellow. When the enamel erodes, it exposes dentin, a yellow tissue beneath the enamel that makes up the bulk of the tooth.
  • Teeth appearing more irregular in shape, chipped, with rough and jagged edges.
  • Molar cupping, or visible indentations and craters on the surface of the teeth.

How to Protect Your Tooth Enamel

The good news is, there are effective ways to protect your tooth enamel. First and foremost, following a regular oral hygiene routine of brushing and flossing at least twice a day is essential. We also recommend regular checkups and cleanings at your dentist’s — at least once every six months.

You can also make a difference by cutting down on or altogether avoiding certain foods and drinks, and making a few lifestyle and habit changes. This means avoiding altogether, or consuming in moderation:

  • Acidic and sugary drinks such as fruit drinks, juice (especially citrus), all soda (including diet), and sports and energy drinks.
  • Foods and drinks with high vinegar content such as potato chips and salad dressings.
  • Candy, due to its high sugar content, and hard candy in particular, because chewing those can crack or chip your teeth, damaging the enamel.

You can also try to avoid chewing on ice as it can crack or chip your teeth, switch to sugar-free gum, use fluoride toothpaste, and rinse with water or mouthwash after you eat or drink sugary or acidic substances.

Visit Your Harker Heights Dentist

Depending on how advanced the enamel erosion is, your dentist can recommend a variety of options to repair and replace the surface of the tooth. It’s also important to get regular checkups and cleanings, and let your dentist know if you experience any sensitivity or pain, as this could help prevent any decay from progressing.

Depending on the degree of erosion, your options may include fillings, crownsroot canals, veneers, extraction, and implants. Your dentist may also recommend a fluoride treatment or a sealant for you and your family to prevent enamel erosion and tooth decay.

You can protect your tooth enamel for years to come with proper care. Should you require any preventative and restorative treatments, we’ll be happy to discuss the options with you. Please contact us at (254) 863-8003 or schedule an appointment with Dr. Katende.

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