Recall your time in elementary school when you learned all about dental health. Among the various books, pamphlets, over head projector slides, and over sized medical models, you probably vaguely remember what a tooth is made out of. While we’re not here to throw a pop quiz at you, we simply want to remind you about how important dental hygiene is when it comes to the surface area of your teeth.
This brief post will cover various parts of a tooth, and in particular, tooth enamel. You will also learn what makes tooth enamel break down and how to keep your enamel looking shiny and bright while staying strong and healthy.
Anatomy of a tooth
Teeth are amazing things. They make it possible for animals and humans to chew and ingest solid foods. They can help boost self-esteem when they are a part of a beautiful smile. While there are other things that teeth can be used for (most of which we DO NOT RECOMMEND), your teeth make living life more comfortable and fulfilling as long as they are in good working order.
Teeth are relatively simple structures that will last the life of the owner as long as they are properly cared for and repaired should they become damaged. A tooth comprises of two main parts – the crown and the root. The crown is what is visible above the gum line while the root rests inside of the gums and is attached to the upper or lower jaw.
There are four main tissues that comprise a tooth:
- Enamel – the “white” part of the tooth and makes up the crown. Enamel happens to be the hardest tissue in the human body and is one of the only tissues that does not regenerate. Thus, protecting tooth enamel is paramount because it is all you will ever get. Enamel is comprised of hydroxyapatite, a calcium phosphate.
- Dentin – is yellow in appearance and is what the enamel of your tooth is anchored to. Dentin completely surrounds and protects the nerves and blood vessels within the tooth and, unlike enamel, regenerates over time. Loss of dentin is called dentinal sclerosis and is caused by the hardening of small tubules withing the dentin itself.
- Cementum – coats the roots of the tooth and is responsible for keeping your teeth anchored securely in your jaw and gums. Cementum is slightly yellow in color and contains the highest concentration of fluoride in hardened (mineralized) tissue. It is regularly replaced by the body.
- Dental Pulp – is the living tissue that exists in the center of your teeth. It contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues. When tooth decay reaches the dentin of the tooth, the pulp will begin to send signals to your brain alerting you to a problem. This alert, or course, is tooth pain. If dental pulp dies, so does the tooth and the chances of fracturing the tooth increases.
How tooth enamel gets damaged
Now that we’ve covered the anatomy of a tooth, it is imperative to understand how enamel acts as the first line of defense against tooth decay. Because enamel is extremely hard, it is easy to forget that enamel can be damaged easily. Most enamel damage is caused by acidic corrosion. Things like diet, medications, and overall health can impact the lifespan of enamel and it is imperative that you understand how these things can affect tooth enamel.
- Diet – acidic beverages such as soda, fruit drinks and juice, and sugary foods all contribute to enamel erosion. Remember, some of the acids in soda and juices can be more erosive than car battery acid. Sugary foods feed bacteria that live on your teeth. As the bacteria consumes these sugars, they produce acids that act the same way as acidic drinks do
- Medications – aspirin and vitamin C supplements have both been proven to erode tooth enamel. Some antibiotics such as Tetracycline can also cause enamel erosion.
- Overall Health – a healthy body is in a better position to fight off infection and oral health benefits greatly from a healthy lifestyle. Proper dental hygiene should also be a part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Keeping your teeth brushed and flossed everyday will help keep enamel erosion to a minimum.
- Trauma – while keeping healthy will help your tooth enamel stay strong, there is only so much it can take before it breaks. Blunt forces can crack teeth and cause enamel to become damaged. Traumatic damage is considered a dental emergency and should be treated by your dentist as soon as possible.
- Bruxism – chronic grinding of the teeth will wear down tooth enamel. Bruxism can be treated with appliances that can be worn over the teeth during sleep and will help keep enamel damage to a minimum.
How dental enamel damage is treated
Enamel erosion happens slowly. So slow, in fact, that once you’ve realized that there is a problem, the damage can be quite extensive. Enamel erosion can cause heightened hot and cold sensitivity, discoloration, pain, and cupping (indentations in the enamel). Once you feel pain, that means that the enamel has eroded so much that the dentin in your teeth begins to respond, usually painfully. And remember, eroding enamel will facilitate cavities and tooth decay.
Your dentist will diagnose enamel erosion during an exam. Once the erosion is identified, your dentist will evaluate what needs to be done to restore your enamel. Treatments include:
- Sealants – your dentist may opt to coat your teeth with a durable resin or glass ionomer based material. Sealants will fill in pits, depressions, and indentations thus keeping acids and sugars from further eroding the enamel.
- Crowns and Veneers – if the enamel is significantly eroded, your dentist may recommend placing crowns or veneers on your teeth. Both of these options replace worn enamel with strong and long lasting appliances designed to look, feel, and perform like your natural teeth.
How to protect your tooth enamel
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. – Benjamin Franklin
Keeping your teeth healthy will help keep your tooth enamel strong. By being proactive, you will be able to enjoy your teeth for your entire life. In addition to visiting your dentist regularly, the following tips will help keep your enamel healthy and without problems:
- Get rid of acidic and sugary drinks! If you cannot avoid these types of drinks, be sure to fully rinse your mouth out with clear, fresh water taking care to swish the water over all surfaces of your teeth. Also consider drinking these drinks with a straw as doing so will minimize contact between acids and your teeth.
- Limit your snacking! Excessive sugars will accumulate on your teeth and promote bacterial growth. If you must snack, be sure to brush your teeth afterwards.
- Chew sugar free gum! Gum chewing increases saliva production and saliva is good for your teeth. Ask your dentist about what gum is best.
- Be sure to drink water! Water keeps your mouth from drying out. A dry mouth encourages bacterial growth and drinking water is just a good thing to do, anyways.
- Brush your teeth! Toothpaste with fluoride helps to strengthen teeth while also clearing teeth and gums of plaque buildup. Plaque can harbor bacteria which in turn produce lactic acids that eat away at enamel. Brush and floss at least twice a day and after each meal.
- Stay healthy! A good diet will go a long way when it comes to the health of your teeth. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Eat wholesome and nutritious foods. If you become sick and vomit, brush your teeth immediately afterwards as stomach acid is especially harsh on tooth enamel.
Ask your dentist about tooth enamel health
If you believe that the enamel on your teeth is weakening or eroded, contact your dentist today. If caught early, tooth enamel erosion can be stopped before cavities form and lead to further tooth decay. Only your dentist can diagnose the extent of the erosion and recommend the best treatment for you. The dentists at Comfort Care Dental have years of experience when it comes to tooth enamel health and repair. Our dentists use state-of-the-art tools and techniques to help you retain a beautiful, bright white smile. Call our Idaho Falls, Pocatello, or Rexburg office to schedule an exam in one of our modern dental examination rooms. Your dentist will advise you about all available options when it comes to tooth enamel health and restoration options.
Now that you’ve had a quick refresher about basic tooth anatomy and what you can do to keep your tooth enamel strong and healthy, be sure to pass this on to all of your friends and family. Be sure to follow us on Facebook so that you can take advantage of our monthly specials and deals all designed to save you money.
- Tooth Anatomy – By BruceBlaus. When using this image in external sources it can be cited as:Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29294597
- Dozenist assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=95647