Updated on March 8, 2024
6 min read

What Is Tooth Enamel?

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What is Tooth Enamel?

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body.1 It’s the thin outer covering of the tooth’s crown, which is the visible part above the gum line. Enamel protects the underlying dentin and pulp from damage.

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Human tooth enamel is even stronger than bone, but it’s not invincible. Tooth enamel can wear down over time. 

Many things can contribute to tooth enamel erosion, including:

  • Dental plaque
  • Harmful bacteria in your mouth
  • Acids from food you eat

This article explains tooth enamel’s physiology and function and the causes of tooth enamel loss and how to prevent enamel erosion.

What Is Tooth Enamel Made Of?

About 95% of human enamel is calcium phosphate.1 Calcium and phosphorus are hard minerals that bond together to form the enamel matrix. 

The remaining 5% of tooth enamel is made up of water and proteins.

What Does Tooth Enamel Look Like?

Enamel is a thin layer that covers the entire tooth surface. It’s translucent, which means you can see light through it.

Tooth color comes from a combination of the enamel and the dentin beneath the surface. Depending on the dentin color, a tooth may appear white, gray, or yellow through the enamel. 

Certain things can stain your tooth enamel, causing yellow or discolored teeth. These include:

  • Coffee and tea
  • Soft drinks
  • Fruit drinks
  • Red wine
  • Cigarettes
  • Blueberries 
  • Dark chocolate 

Routine teeth cleanings at your dentist can help remove surface stains and keep your teeth healthy.

What Does Tooth Enamel Do?

Enamel plays a crucial role in preventing tooth decay and damage. It creates a strong barrier that protects the underlying dentin and nerve supply from:

  • Tooth decay
  • Infection
  • Tooth erosion (wear and tear)
  • Cavities (dental caries)
  • Sensitivity when eating hot or cold foods and sweets

The nerves in your teeth are sensitive to temperature, meaning foods that are hot or cold can cause tooth pain.

Is Tooth Enamel Loss Reversible?

No. Once your tooth enamel is destroyed, your body can’t replace it. But, dental procedures can restore your teeth to function properly.

What Happens When Tooth Enamel Is Gone?

Tooth enamel erosion allows the inner layers of your teeth to come into contact with the food and drinks you consume. This leaves your teeth vulnerable to cavities, staining, and sensitivity.

Without treatment, small cavities can turn into infections and dental abscesses.

What Causes Tooth Enamel Erosion?

Tooth enamel erosion occurs when acids wear down the enamel on your teeth. Many things can cause tooth enamel loss, including:

Acidic Food and Drinks

Drinking too many soft drinks and eating highly acidic foods can cause tooth enamel erosion. These foods and drinks include:

  • Carbonated sodas (containing phosphoric and citric acids)
  • Citrus fruits and sour candies
  • Fruit drinks

In a healthy mouth, saliva will neutralize the damaging effects of acidic foods and drinks. However, it’s important to balance these foods and drinks with plenty of water and a healthy diet.

Sugar and Starchy Foods

Foods and drinks that contain high levels of sugar or carbohydrates can cause tooth enamel erosion. 

The bacteria in your mouth thrive on carbohydrates from sugar and starchy foods. When these bacteria consume sugar, they produce an acid that wears down tooth enamel.

Without regular brushing, this can lead to tooth decay and cavities.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Chronic acid reflux or heartburn can cause acids from your stomach to travel back up to your mouth. This can cause tooth enamel erosion.

Dry Mouth

Saliva is necessary to neutralize acids, wash away food particles, and restore tooth enamel. Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a condition that involves insufficient saliva production. 

Other Causes 

Other potential causes of tooth enamel erosion include:

  • Having a genetic predisposition to thin tooth enamel
  • Certain medications, including antihistamines
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)
  • Conditions that cause frequent vomiting, such as bulimia nervosa or pregnancy 
  • Brushing your teeth too hard
  • Biting or chewing on hard objects
  • Drinking alcohol to the point of vomiting

How Is Tooth Enamel Erosion Treated?

There are several things your dentist can do to restore damaged tooth enamel. These include:

Fluoride Treatments

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that helps rebuild weakened tooth enamel. Many people get fluoride from brushing with fluoride toothpaste or drinking fluoridated water.

Your dentist can also apply fluoride directly to your teeth. Fluoride treatments can help restore damaged enamel before a cavity forms.

Tooth Bonding

Bonding is a procedure where your dentist places a tooth-colored material called resin on the damaged tooth. 

3d render of crooked tooth treatment using bonding procedure

The resin covers up any discolorations caused by the damaged enamel. It protects your tooth from further damage.

Dental Crown

A dental crown is a protective cap that covers a damaged tooth. Although an artificial crown isn’t as hard or strong as normal enamel, it will protect your tooth from further damage or decay.

Inlay, Onlay & Dental Crown

Dental Veneer

Dental veneers are thin, custom-made shells that cover your teeth. Similar to a crown, the veneer will protect your tooth.

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Tooth Enamel
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How to Prevent Tooth Enamel Erosion

There are many ways to strengthen your tooth enamel naturally, including:

Practice Good Dental Hygiene

The best way to protect your teeth from enamel erosion is to practice good oral hygiene

Brush your teeth two times daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Floss daily with string floss to remove food from between your teeth. Use a water flosser as needed in between your teeth. 

Use Fluoride

Fluoride remineralizes your tooth enamel. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste and drinking fluoridated water are good ways to ensure you’re getting enough fluoride.

If you’re concerned about tooth enamel erosion, talk to your dentist about fluoride treatments.

Limit Acidic Foods and Beverages

Drink acidic drinks from a straw. Avoid swishing the drink around in your mouth. Drink plenty of water following a sugary or acidic meal.

Eat acidic foods with cheese or milk to balance out the acidity.

Address Dry Mouth

If you suffer from dry mouth, chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva production and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Visit your dentist if the problem persists. 

Treat Bruxism

Teeth grinding can cause lots of dental health problems, including tooth enamel erosion. Talk to your dentist about treatment, which may include wearing a night guard.

Summary

Tooth enamel is the thin outer covering of your teeth. It’s the hardest substance in the human body. However, many factors can cause tooth enamel erosion, including acidic foods, dry mouth, and teeth grinding. 

Once tooth enamel is gone, your body won’t replace it. There are several things you can do to prevent tooth enamel erosion. Your dentist can also treat damaged tooth enamel with fluoride, bonding, and dental restorations.

Last updated on March 8, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on March 8, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Gil-Bona, A, and Bidlack, FB. “Tooth Enamel and its Dynamic Protein Matrix.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2020.
  2. Zimmerman, B, et al. “Physiology, Tooth.” StatPearls, 2023.
  3. Norris, J. “Tooth Enamel: Nature’s Crowning Achievement.” UCSF School of Dentistry, 2010.
  4. When teeth get damaged.” Harvard Health Publishing, 2014.
  5. Vieira, AR, et al. “Weaker Dental Enamel Explains Dental Decay.” PLOS One, 2015.
  6. Tooth Erosion and Acid Reflux.” American Dental Association, nd.
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