What is tooth enamel & how can you protect it?
What is tooth enamel?
The enamel on your teeth is the hardest and most highly mineralized substance in your body - even harder than bone. It covers the outer layer of each tooth and makes up the most visible part of the tooth. The enamel color can vary from light yellow to a grayish-white; it is only partially responsible for your teeth’ color since it is semi-translucent. Enamel is made up of mostly minerals, primarily hydroxyapatite.
Enamel protects your teeth from decay, making it incredibly important to prevent your enamel from eroding. It works as a strong barrier that protects the inner layers of your teeth from acids and plaque. It also protects the sensitive layers of your teeth from foods and beverages that are very hot or very cold. Despite its strength, everyday acids that develop from certain foods and drinks can put your enamel at risk.
How to protect enamel
You can actively work to protect the enamel on your teeth by avoiding foods known to cause a lot of damage. The most harmful foods to avoid are acidic fruits and beverages, as well as highly-sugary foods. When the acid or sugar sticks to your teeth and interacts with the bacteria in your mouth, lactic acid is produced - this acid then can damage your enamel. When you can, avoiding these foods is a best practice but, if you do consume them, remember to brush your teeth thoroughly afterward.
Besides sugars and acids, tough foods such as candy or ice cubes can also damage your enamel by causing it to crack or chip. If you do indulge in hard candy, it is best to suck on it, don’t bite down.
By practicing good oral hygiene habits, like regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, and visiting your dentist for regular professional cleans, you will be proactively working to protect your enamel.
Once enamel is destroyed, your body does not make more to replace it. Unlike other parts of your body - such as bones - enamel does not contain any living cells, making it impossible for it to regenerate. Even though you cannot regrow your enamel, you can help your teeth by remineralizing them.
What is remineralizing?
Remineralizing enamel means you replace lost calcium phosphate material into the lattice structure of your enamel that makes up the majority of its structure. Though remineralizing teeth sounds like a heavy-duty procedure, it quite simply means you’re increasing calcifying minerals and paying attention to the pH of your mouth. When it comes to remineralizing, it is all about keeping your saliva’s pH above neutral.
Here are a few ways you can remineralize your teeth
- Alkalinize your diet. Take a look at your diet - aim to fill your plate with alkaline foods. Alkaline-promoting foods include most fruits, vegetables, soybeans, tofu, nuts, seeds, and legumes. This means eating acidic foods in moderation such as dairy, eggs, meat, most grains, and processed foods.
- Eat foods rich in calcium. Calcium-rich foods help make more calcium bioavailable in the saliva - which helps put calcium back into the tooth matrix. Foods high in calcium include white beans, kale, tofu, almonds, and figs.
- Stay hydrated. It helps your teeth (and your overall health) if you stay hydrated. Consider introducing alkaline water into your daily routine.
- Use the right toothpaste. Try to find a toothpaste twith xylitol in it and a neutral or above-neutral pH level. Xylitol prevents demineralization by inhibiting the growth of streptococcus bacteria and reduces plaque.
- Limit sugar intake. Sugar leads to bacteria growth in your mouth, which isn’t good for your teeth. When bacteria in your mouth digests sugar it produces acid, which weakens the tooth enamel.
Once enamel is gone, it is gone for good, but by adding steps to work in remineralizing your teeth, you will help support your enamel.