Tooth enamel: what it is, what causes its loss, and how to improve it
Tooth enamel is the hardest part of the human body, even harder than bones! This is one of the most interesting facts about teeth, but it’s not surprising: the enamel of our teeth is responsible for protecting the dentin from possible damage and supporting the pressure that the jaw exerts when chewing, that is why its composition is so strong.
Even though it’s incredibly resistant, when we expose tooth enamel to acidic foods and drinks on a daily basis, it can become damaged. That is why it’s important to know how to care for tooth enamel to protect and strengthen it and prevent its loss.
In this article we will explain what tooth enamel is, what it does, what causes its erosion, and how to improve it.
What is tooth enamel?
Tooth enamel covers the outer layer of each tooth and is the most visible part of the tooth. Its color can vary from pale yellow to grayish white, but it does not completely define the color of the teeth, since it’s semi-transparent it reveals the color of the dentin underneath. But what is tooth enamel made of? The composition of tooth enamel is mainly made up of minerals, especially hydroxyapatite. Tooth enamel is not only the hardest substance in our body, but also the most mineralized.
So what does tooth enamel do? Tooth enamel is responsible for protecting the tooth from cavities, so taking care of it to prevent damage and loss is of vital importance. The main function of tooth enamel is to act as a protective barrier against acids and plaque, protecting the inner layers of the teeth. It also protects teeth against really hot or cold foods or drinks. Despite the resistance of tooth enamel, everyday acids produced by some foods or drinks can weaken it. Now that we know what tooth enamel is, we will talk about its structure and composition.
Tooth enamel structure: what is it made of?
The composition of tooth enamel is made up of 96% minerals and 4% organic matter and water. The inorganic part of the structure of tooth enamel is a phosphate of crystalline calcium (hydroxyapatite) and various ions, such as strontium, magnesium, bromine or fluorine. These ions are what make tooth enamel susceptible to cavities because they can be diluted when they come in contact with acids.
Not only is the composition of tooth enamel important, but also its varying thickness. Typically, the thickness ranges from about 2.5 mm on the surface to only a thin margin at the gum line. The thickness of your tooth enamel affects the color or your teeth since the underlying dentin can be seen through the thinner areas.
It’s important to understand the structure of tooth enamel before learning about its function and importance.
What does tooth enamel do?
Knowing what tooth enamel is and what it does is crucial in understanding its relevance to your oral health.
The main function of tooth enamel is to protect teeth against cavities, so it's important to do everything possible to prevent it from eroding or becoming cracked.
Tooth enamel forms a strong barrier that protects the inner layers of your teeth from the effects of acids and plaque. It also protects the most sensitive inner layers of the teeth that are sensitive to food and drinks of extreme temperatures.
The function of tooth enamel is to protect the innermost layers of the tooth, the dentin and pulp from:
- Dental cavities
- Tooth erosion or wear
- Tooth sensitivity (to heat, cold, and sweets).
Tooth enamel damage and loss
When it comes to problems with your tooth’s enamel, there is a big difference between natural defects in tooth enamel and when it erodes or becomes cracked.
Dental enamel defects, manifesting as enamel hypoplasia or opacification, are caused by alterations in the development of the enamel organ as a result of hereditary or acquired systemic diseases.
Whereas tooth enamel damage, like erosion and cracks, are caused by poor dental hygiene and oral health care.
Below we go over the different causes of tooth enamel damage like erosion, loss, and becoming cracked.
What causes tooth enamel erosion and loss?
Tooth enamel wear refers to the loss of enamel, and the main cause of this is usually exposure to acids. These acids can be produced by bacteria in the mouth, especially when sugars or carbohydrates are metabolized. Tooth enamel loss can cause gradual erosion or loss of the outermost protective layer.
So what exactly is it that causes the erosion of our tooth’s enamel? Below is a small list of the main causes of erosion or loss of tooth enamel:
- Sugary foods, such as ice cream, syrup, or candy.
- Starchy foods, such as white bread.
- Acidic foods, such as apples, citrus fruits, berries, and rhubarb.
- Drinks and fruit juices.
- Lemonades, which often contain harmful citric acid and phosphoric acid, as well as sugar.
- Excess vitamin C, found in citrus fruits.
- Grinding teeth.
- Chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Low salivation, also known as xerostomia, which is a symptom of diseases such as diabetes.
- Regular use of certain medications, such as antihistamines and aspirin.
- Eating disorders such as bulimia, which alter the digestive system and expose the teeth to stomach acid.
- Genetic disorders such as amelogenesis imperfecta or enamel hypoplasia, which affect the development of teeth.
In addition, as we mentioned previously, there are several defects (alterations or anomalies in the structure of tooth enamel) that can cause it to degrade more easily. This can be due to various causes, such as genetic factors, malnutrition, dental development problems or environmental factors. All of these factors can cause tooth enamel to become more susceptible to damage or become improperly mineralized.
Symptoms of tooth enamel erosion and other problems
As we have already mentioned, the enamel is translucent: the white part of the tooth comes from the dentin that is located just below the enamel. If tooth enamel becomes damaged, one of the problems it can cause is that the dentin becomes discolored, leading to tooth discoloration.
Other problems and symptoms that can happen with tooth enamel erosion are:
- Chipping, cracking and splitting of teeth.
- Tooth pain and sensitivity.
- Transparency or translucency of enamel, especially on the edges of the front teeth.
How to protect tooth enamel and prevent its loss
Now we’ll cover one of the most important topics: how to protect tooth enamel and prevent its loss. Below are some tips on caring for your tooth enamel.
You can protect tooth enamel and prevent loss by avoiding foods that damage it. Foods you should avoid are acidic fruits and drinks and foods high in sugar. When acid or sugar sticks to the teeth and interacts with bacteria in the mouth, creating lactic acid which can damage tooth enamel. Avoiding these foods will protect your tooth enamel, and when you do eat them, be sure to brush your teeth thoroughly afterwards.
You can also protect your tooth enamel by practicing good oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth regularly with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, and having regular professional dental cleanings at the dentist helps take care of your tooth enamel.
How to strengthen and improve tooth enamel
If you want to know how to strengthen and improve tooth enamel, check out these three tips:
- Good oral hygiene
Good oral hygiene is always important, even if you don't see any tooth enamel erosion. However, it is especially important to exercise caution when you see damage.
- Avoid harmful foods
By now you know tooth enamel’s enemy: acid. Many foods contain high levels of acid which, when combined with bacteria naturally found in the mouth, can attack tooth enamel.
- Go to the dentist regularly
Although most treatments to prevent erosion or wear of tooth enamel should be done at home, it’s still important to visit the dentist regularly. Consistently visiting the dentist is necessary even if you are not looking to strengthen your tooth enamel.
How can you restore and repair tooth enamel?
When it comes to understanding how to fix tooth enamel, it’s important to remember that tooth enamel that has already been eroded, can’t be restored. But there are various solutions to help protect the remaining enamel and some of them can be done at home.
For example, tooth enamel can be remineralized (repair and restore the loss of minerals from tooth enamel) through fluoride treatment (using a toothpaste and/or mouthwash with fluoride).
Other stronger treatments with fluoride can also be carried out (always indicated by a specialist) to help people with weak enamel.
In addition to fluoride, there are other ways to fix tooth enamel. Damaged tooth enamel can also be restored and repaired using the following methods:
- Fillings for localized enamel erosions (cavities).
- In cases of greater erosion (more extensive cavities), if filling is not possible, crowns are used.
- Dental bonding or dental adhesion to protect the surfaces of various teeth.
- Veneers for permanent protection of several or all teeth.
Can you rebuild or replace tooth enamel?
If you’re also wondering if tooth enamel can come back, the answer is “no”: neither naturally or artificially.
Basically, tooth enamel cannot be rebuilt or replaced because it does not contain living cells in it.
However, as we already mentioned, although tooth enamel cannot come back, it is possible to remineralize it (strengthen it). Erosion or wear of tooth enamel is an inevitable part of the aging process, so only what is left can be preserved.
If significant erosion has occurred and your teeth are in poor condition, dentists can help you maintain or restore the previous appearance of your teeth with the following methods:
- Add sealants and adhesives to enamel.
- Wrap the teeth with special films called pronamel.
- Removal of a broken or dead tooth and placement of an implant.
At Impress we recommend treating existing cavities and improving oral hygiene and care habits to naturally preserve existing enamel.
Protect and care for your teeth with Impress
If you need help improving your dental health, Impress is a great option. We offer orthodontic treatments, but also procedures like fillings or cleanings, among others, that can help you improve oral hygiene.
If you are interested in learning about how Impress can help you improve your oral health, come to your nearest Impress clinic and you will be able to meet the team of professionals who will supervise your treatment. You can schedule via email, email@example.com, by calling us at, 888.490.1421, or by booking online. Discover what Impress can do for you at your nearest clinic.
Frequently asked questions about tooth enamel
Best tooth enamel repair toothpaste?
The best toothpaste for tooth enamel is one that contains xylitol and has a neutral or hyperneutral pH. Xylitol prevents demineralization by inhibiting the growth of strep bacteria and reducing plaque.
Can tooth enamel loss cause pain?
In the advanced stages of enamel erosion, teeth become extremely sensitive to temperatures and sweets. So yes,tooth enamel loss can cause pain.
What destroys tooth enamel?
In addition to sugar and acids, hard foods such as candy or ice cubes can also destroy tooth enamel causing cracks or chips.
What happens if tooth enamel is gone?
When the tooth enamel is gone, what happens is the body can no longer produce a substitute. Unlike other parts of the body, such as bones, tooth enamel does not contain living cells, so it cannot regenerate.