Everything To Know About Tooth Enamel

teeth on a screen

What is Tooth Enamel?

Did you know the hardest substance in the human body lives in your mouth? Tooth enamel is the thin outer covering of your teeth. It may be invisible, but it’s tough as nails, literally.

Nearly 100% of enamel is hydroxyapatite, the mineralized form of calcium phosphate, making it harder than bone and steel. Enamel is extra tough for a reason – its job is to protect your teeth from daily chewing, biting, mashing, grinding, and more. Enamel also acts as an insulator, so when you drink coffee or eat ice cream, those hot and cold temperatures don’t cause tooth pain.

Why is protecting my tooth enamel important?

While enamel is harder than bone, it’s also more brittle and susceptible to wear and tear. Tooth enamel erosion weakens the overall structure of your tooth, putting you at risk for chips, cracks, tooth decay, tooth sensitivity, and infections. And because enamel isn’t composed of living cells, any damage it sustains is permanent.

Why do we lose enamel?

Dentists usually look at two types of enamel loss – abrasion and erosion. Abrasion can be caused by brushing teeth too aggressively or with hard-bristled toothbrushes, poking teeth with toothpicks, or scraping teeth when removing retainers or dentures. Erosion happens when enamel is overexposed to certain foods and drinks or acids in the stomach that are regurgitated.

What contributes to enamel loss?

It’s natural to experience some protective enamel wear with age. But you may be hastening enamel loss without knowing it. Here are some key contributors to enamel loss:

Bad dental hygiene.

Bacteria that feed on the carbohydrates left by the food and drinks you consume produce acids on the teeth, which eventually can turn into plaque. Too much plaque from poor dental hygiene will eventually wear down and weaken your enamel.

Drinking too many sugary drinks.

With 39 grams of sugar per can, soda is a major bacteria breeder. If not brushed away quickly, it will do a number on your tooth enamel. Anything too sugary is a threat to your teeth and gums, so make sweets a treat, not a part of your daily diet.

Acidic Foods and Drinks.

Wait, orange juice is good for you, right? Not so fast. Researchers have found that acidic fruit juices markedly decreased the hardiness of while increasing the roughness of tooth enamel.

Overexposure to stomach acid.

Acid reflux, bulimia, and binge drinking all cause acids from the stomach to regurgitate into the mouth, potentially causing enamel erosion.

Grinding your teeth.

Teeth grinding and clenching of the teeth affects 10% of the adult population, which can wear away enamel and even cause teeth to crack and break.

Boozing it up.

Both the alcohol and acid content of alcoholic drinks reduces saliva in your mouth. Without enough saliva, plaque-causing bacteria will happily multiply, putting you at greater risk for enamel loss and tooth decay.

What can I do to prevent enamel loss?

Besides addressing habits that may contribute to enamel loss, here are a few ways to keep and strengthen your existing enamel:

Don’t rush the brush.

Make sure to brush teeth for at least two minutes, which has been shown to rid some 26% more plaque compared to the average brush time of 45 seconds.

Upgrade your brush.

A tapered-tip toothbrush will more easily get under the gums to remove plaque hiding under your gum line.

Increase fluoride intake

Drinking fluoridated water is one of the easiest and most effective ways to strengthen dental enamel. Fluoride remineralizes the surfaces of the teeth, so it also can restore enamel in small amounts.

Stay on top of your dental checkups.

Getting to your dentist bi-annually for checkups and cleanings is important to help identify tartar buildup and track potential enamel loss or damage.

Concerned about tooth enamel loss or other dental care issues? Our team at Loudoun Smile Center is always here to answer questions and be your trusted resource for information on your dental health!

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