Ask any musclehead about what is the hardest tissue in the human body and he’ll probably do a Hans and Franz flex. But the muscles are nowhere near the hardest tissue in the body.
It’s the enamel on your teeth.
Tooth enamel consists mainly of minerals, primarily hydroxyapatite. It covers the crown, the part of the tooth that’s visible above the gumline. It is translucent, so you can see right through your enamel to the main portion of the tooth, the dentin, beneath it. The dentin is where your tooth color is dictated, whether it be white, off white, grey, or yellow.
Stains on your teeth from food and drink accumulate on the enamel, not in the dentin. Regular visits to Gentle Dental for your twice-yearly prophylaxis clean and polish most of those stains away. Tooth whitening also removes these stains from the enamel.
The job of the enamel
Enamel protects your teeth during daily use. Things such as chewing, biting, crunching, and grinding features lots of force and your enamel keeps that force from damaging the interior of the tooth. The enamel also insulates the teeth from potential painful temperatures and chemicals.
Enamel is one tough customer, standing up to all off the above, but it can be damaged. It can crack or chip, but unlike bone cells, enamel has no living cells so once it is damaged the body cannot repair it. People think you can restore your enamel — some dental products even claim this — but you cannot. Once enamel is gone, it’s gone for good.
Erosion, the long-term enemy of enamel
Because enamel doesn’t rebuild, it’s wise to avoid the foods and beverages that cause enamel erosion. Although your tooth enamel is tough, like the hardest rock it can be eroded over time. Acids are the usual culprits. Here’s a list of enamel eroders:
- Fruit drinks (fruits have various acids, some very erosive)
- Excessive soft drink consumption (high levels of phosphoric and citric acids)
- Too much sugar and starch in the diet
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Acid reflux disease
- Medications like aspirin and antihistamines
- Environmental factors (see below)
Environmental surface erosion
Unlike food and drink, which you can monitor and control, it’s often harder to stop the environment surface erosion that is happening to your teeth. Friction, stress, general wear and tear, and corrosion can all combine to grind off the enamel from your teeth.
Abfraction —This is basically a stress fracture of the tooth caused by flexing or bending of the tooth.
Abrasion — This is the wear that happens when you brush too hard, bite hard objects such as fingernails and pens, or chew tobacco.
Attrition — Grind your teeth at night? This tooth-to-tooth friction is called attrition.
Corrosion — This is the name for acidic contents hitting the enamel. Frequent corrosion takes off enamel.
Will I know when enamel has eroded?
Enamel erosion doesn’t happen overnight. There will be clues, but you have to be in tune with them to either stop your behaviors or change your diet. Sensitivity to sweets and temperatures can cause twinges of pain in the early stages of erosion. As it progresses, your teeth become discolored as more of the dentin is exposed. As enamel erodes the edges of your teeth can become rough and irregular. Severe sensitivity will come in the late stages. Also, cupping, otherwise known as indentations in the teeth show enamel loss.
Take care of your enamel and it will take care of your teeth. But, if your enamel has eroded, procedures such as dental bonding can cover damaged areas. Call us at (732) 549-5660 if you’re noticing any symptoms of enamel erosion.