When you admire someone’s white teeth, you see only the outermost layer of surprisingly complex structures. Human teeth possess a dense assembly of nerve tissue and blood vessels surrounded by a harder material called dentin, with a topmost layer of enamel providing essential protection and chewing strength.
The more you understand about tooth enamel, the more easily you can recognize threats to its health and structural integrity, and the more effectively you can protect your teeth against those potential issues. Give some thought to the following five important points regarding tooth enamel.
1. Tooth Enamel Has Extraordinary Strength and Hardness
Tooth enamel consists mainly of a mineral known as apatite. This substance earns a ranking of 5 on the Mohs scale of hardness, outperforming gold, steel, iron, and silver on this scale. In fact, no biological material on Earth can claim a greater hardness than tooth enamel.
This hardness and resilience allow teeth to hold up under decades of biting and chewing. Since the human jaw can apply about 175 pounds of biting force, your teeth would stand little chance of lasting if they didn’t have apatite in their enamel.
2. Even the Strongest Enamel Can Sustain Critical Damage
Even very hard objects can break, including teeth. A sharp impact can crack, chip, or fracture the healthiest tooth enamel, while thin or eroded enamel may prove especially vulnerable to breakage. Unfortunately, this erosion or progressive weakening of enamel occurs all too easily and frequently.
If your tooth enamel consisted entirely of apatite, it would never decay. However, the mixture of organic and inorganic materials that make up tooth enamel allows acids to infiltrate through tiny pores, destroying the organic components. A combination of sugars, starches, and bacteria can create this erosion and decay.
Decay can cause a hole called a cavity to develop in the tooth enamel. If the cavity reaches all the way through the enamel, the dentin and other tissues within the tooth may all suffer decay and infection. A deep crack or chip in the enamel can permit the same destructive infiltration, causing pain and disease.
3. Yellow Teeth May Indicate Thin Enamel
The more years of service your teeth provide, the thinner your enamel may grow. Decades of biting, chewing, and exposure to acidic substances can strip tooth enamel of minerals without necessarily causing cavities or other damage. As the enamel thins and grows translucent, the yellow layer of dentin beneath it may become more visible.
For this reason, many older individuals notice a yellowish color overtaking their smile. They may mistake the discoloration for tobacco or food stains, only to discover that tooth whitening procedures cannot correct it.
4. You Can’t Grow New Enamel, but You Can Strengthen What You Have
You’ll never have more tooth enamel than whatever your teeth originally contained. Teeth cannot regenerative this non-living material once it has started to thin out or chip away. Thankfully, you can still take steps to optimize the strength and mineral content of your remaining enamel, which can greatly slow further enamel loss.
Tooth enamel grows weaker when it loses minerals such as calcium and phosphates. Fluoride toothpastes and other forms of fluoride treatment can compensate for these losses by drawing calcium and phosphates out of your saliva and restoring them to whatever enamel you still have.
If you choose to optimize your enamel strength by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, take care to brush the smart way. Brushing with too much force, or immediately after ingesting acidic foods, can aggravate enamel erosion. In addition to twice-daily brushing, floss your teeth once a day to remove starches and sugars.
Certain dietary strategies can enhance your efforts to protect your tooth enamel. Limit your consumption of acidic foods and beverages, or at least drink such beverages through a straw to limit contact with enamel. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to normalize the pH balance in your mouth.
5. Dental Care Can Help Compensate for Enamel Damage
If your tooth enamel has become damaged despite your best efforts to protect it, don’t fret. Modern restorative dentistry can restore the strength of your teeth and the beauty of your smile. For instance, your dentist can cover yellowing front teeth with veneers, thin porcelain restorations that look just like healthy enamel.
If your enamel requires more restoration than simple veneers can provide, you may benefit from permanent crowns. A crown covers the entire visible surface of the tooth, protecting it against additional breakage or damage and guarding against infection. Today’s ceramics can duplicate your natural tooth enamel color with ease.
Don’t forget to schedule periodic preventative dental care as a means of keeping your enamel safe and healthy. Your dentist can find and treat any minor problems before they grow into major enamel damage. You can also benefit from professional cleanings that get rid of dental plaque and associated bacteria.
Whether your tooth enamel could use some professional support or you just want to keep your enamel as healthy as possible for many years to come, Valley Oak Dental Group can help. Contact our clinic today to schedule an examination, cleaning, or treatment.