While a great smile involves your teeth looking their best, it’s the health of those teeth that make all the difference. You can thank the tooth’s tough outer layer, the enamel, for its natural protection, serving as the first line of defense to everyday dangers that threaten.
Not only is tooth enamel tough, but it is the hardest substance in the human body. That’s right, harder than your bones or any other bodily tissue. Understanding what tooth enamel is and its capabilities, and how to maintain it and keep it functioning at its best can take your smile and dental health a long way.
Tooth Enamel Explained
Tooth enamel is the thick outer layer of your tooth, the part you see every day when you look in the mirror. It encases your tooth and aids in biting and chewing food. More importantly, it guards against the formation of plaque, decay, and cavities.
Surprisingly, the enamel is actually a bodily tissue that is stronger than your bones. It is the first of four layers of tissue that make up a tooth. Gong in order, from outer to inner layer, the four tooth tissues are:
Your tooth enamel is composed of 96% mineral crystals, more mineral than any other tissue the body can create. This dense concentration of minerals is what sets the tooth enamel apart and makes it so durable.
Just as every person’s body is different, the amount or thickness of tooth enamel may vary. On average, at its thickest, tooth enamel is 2.5 mm thick.
Your tooth enamel may be the perfect protector for all those chewy, tough, or hard foods you snack on or consume daily. It also protects against the effects of heated beverages.
Unfortunately, the one flaw found in tooth enamel is that it cannot heal itself. While other body tissues have this feature, enamel is not a living tissue. In contrast with skin, where a cut in the skin heals itself, teeth are not of the same makeup. The body cannot rebuild your tooth enamel. Essentially, you only get one chance at the full armor of enamel for your teeth. It’s up to you to keep it.
When damage or erosion of the enamel does occur, you’ll need dental help, which may come in the form of fillings, crowns, or veneers.
What Damages Tooth Enamel
Think of your tooth enamel as a shield. That shield stays up constantly, protecting your teeth from cavities and decay. It’s assaulted daily by the foods you eat, the beverages you drink, and the act of chewing and biting.
While your tooth enamel is the absolute hardest substance in the human body, that doesn’t mean it can’t be damaged. The main culprit for causing damage lies in acidic food and beverages. Frequent consumption of these foods can eventually erode the enamel and leave your tooth unprotected. Acid reflux also puts the enamel at risk for erosion.
Erosion is actually the demineralization of the enamel, weakening the tooth underneath and leaving it vulnerable to further damage.
A few things leading to erosion of tooth enamel include:
- specific fruits, such as grapefruit and oranges
- soft drinks
- certain fruit juices
- energy and sports drinks
In addition to acidic food and beverages wreaking havoc on tooth enamel, another culprit is sticky carbohydrates. For example, if you frequently eat crackers or bread, you may be harming your tooth’s enamel.
Symptoms of damage to the tooth enamel include:
- discoloration on parts of the tooth
- development of slight indentations on the tooth surface
- sensitivity, such as to temperature (hot or cold) or sweets
When the enamel is thin or eroded, your teeth are even more susceptible to easy chipping, cracking, or breaking.
Other factors can also erode enamel, such as consistent or chronic dry mouth or side effects of certain medications.
How to Maintain Healthy Tooth Enamel
You only get one shot at fully healthy enamel on your teeth, so maintaining it is advantageous and beneficial to you in the long run.
To help maintain healthy tooth enamel and keep it performing its job, you can take a few measures to keep it strong, including:
- Brushing twice a day
- Flossing at least once per day
- Drinking more water
- Avoiding or reducing the amount of acidic food and beverages as well as sticky carbohydrates
- Brushing after consuming sugary, starchy, or acidic food and drinks
- Adding calcium to your diet
- Seeking solutions for acid reflux or dry mouth
- Reviewing any side effects to new medicine
- Scheduling regular 6-month dental checkups and cleanings
If your tooth enamel is already showing signs of minor damage, you can attempt remineralization with specially formulated toothpaste or mouthwash. Otherwise, you’ll need a dental solution such as a dental filling or a dental crown. In some cases, a dentist-applied sealant will help to prevent more enamel erosion.
Make Your Tooth Enamel a Priority by Scheduling an Appointment Today
Whether you’re looking to protect your tooth enamel or are experiencing discoloration or sensitivity currently, Dr. Stiles and his team are here to work with you on a solution. Call our office today to schedule an appointment.