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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.
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:
This article explains tooth enamel’s physiology and function and the causes of tooth enamel loss and how to prevent enamel erosion.
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.
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:
Routine teeth cleanings at your dentist can help remove surface stains and keep your teeth healthy.
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:
The nerves in your teeth are sensitive to temperature, meaning foods that are hot or cold can cause tooth pain.
No. Once your tooth enamel is destroyed, your body can’t replace it. But, dental procedures can restore your teeth to function properly.
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.
Tooth enamel erosion occurs when acids wear down the enamel on your teeth. Many things can cause tooth enamel loss, including:
Drinking too many soft drinks and eating highly acidic foods can cause tooth enamel erosion. These foods and drinks include:
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.
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.
Chronic acid reflux or heartburn can cause acids from your stomach to travel back up to your mouth. This can cause tooth enamel erosion.
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 potential causes of tooth enamel erosion include:
There are several things your dentist can do to restore damaged tooth enamel. These include:
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.
Bonding is a procedure where your dentist places a tooth-colored material called resin on the damaged tooth.
The resin covers up any discolorations caused by the damaged enamel. It protects your tooth from further damage.
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.
Dental veneers are thin, custom-made shells that cover your teeth. Similar to a crown, the veneer will protect your tooth.
There are many ways to strengthen your tooth enamel naturally, including:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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