Tooth enamel is the outer, shiny layer on a tooth which protects the under layers (or tissue). Tooth enamel is extremely important as it protects the health of your teeth, and is one of the strongest parts (even stronger than bone) in the human body.
Enamel helps protect your teeth from daily use, such as from chewing, biting, crunching and grinding. Although enamel is a hard protector of teeth, it can chip and crack. It also helps insulate teeth from painful temperatures and chemicals. When tooth enamel erodes, you may notice that you react more to hot or cold foods, drinks and sweets since they can then “get through” holes in your enamel and contact the nerves inside.
Therefore, dentists in the UK as well as those who are further afield, will often stress the importance of enamel care in patient’s dental routines, as damaging it can lead to long-term problems with your teeth. Read GlobMed’s quick guide on what tooth enamel is, how it works, and why it is important to prevent damage.
Why Is Tooth Enamel Important?
Enamel protects the innermost fragile areas of your teeth, known as dentin. It’s the most important line of defence against tooth decay. If your enamel is damaged, you could develop cavities, temperature sensitivity and even tooth infections.
Tooth decay is one of the most common dental conditions worldwide. Protecting enamel should be a priority for most individuals, and can be achieved through a well-balanced diet and good dental daily routine. If enamel is not protected, it can lead to long-term tooth damage as enamel does not regenerate once it is lost or damaged.
What Is Tooth Enamel Made Of?
Tooth enamel is made up of minerals, mostly calcium and phosphorus. These minerals then bind together to form hard crystalites and is the shiny, white outer layer on teeth. Tooth enamel is also made up of protein and water.
What Can Damage Tooth Enamel?
Sugary foods and foods with a high citrus content are the biggest culprits, like fizzy drinks. These food substances are high in sugar and very acidic, which is a brutal combination that wears away enamel. Sweets are also a key component in the enamel damage - the high sugar levels increase the risk for decay, so it’s best to avoid it or only have it in moderation!
Fruit juice and citrus fruits have also been known to harm enamel. The difference is that citrus fruits have health benefits. Instead of getting rid of fruits and vegetables from your diet entirely, it’s advised to eat them in moderation and alongside foods that are neutral so that you are not giving your teeth a double dose of acidity.
What Are the Signs of Enamel Damage?
It may take some time for you to notice any loss of your enamel because the changes can be very subtle. First, you will probably feel pain or sensitivity when eating certain foods. As it progresses, you will notice a yellow discoloration on your teeth. This colour signals an exposure of dentin. Your teeth may also appear more rounded, chipped, or rough.
The signs in spotting enamel erosion can vary, but usually include:
- Cracks and chips
- Smooth, shiny surfaces
- Severe painful sensitivity
What Are the Causes of Enamel Damage?
Generally, tooth enamel is damaged by poor diets and lack of dental routines. By having a well-balanced and varied diet, alongside taking care of your teeth properly daily, will likely ensure your teeth enamel is taken care of.
However, there are some other medical conditions and factors which will damage your teeth enamel and can be found below:
- Bulimia - This eating disorder affects body image and consists of self-purging, like vomiting. Teeth that are constantly exposed to stomach acid and bile that is found in vomit causes damage to the tooth enamel
- Acidic Foods & Drinks - Consuming highly acidic foods and beverages regularly tends to speed up the erosion of enamel, such as citric fruits, coffee, fizzy drinks and sweets. It is best to consume these in moderation
- Coeliac Disease - This autoimmune disease causes intestinal damage after consuming gluten in foods. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating and diarrhoea are common with this condition, many people with this disease also have transparent teeth
- Enamel Hypoplasia - This is a genetic condition that causes weak, chalky, or thin enamel which results in a translucent-like appearance. The enamel that is present erodes quickly. In unfortunate and rare cases, teeth form without any enamel whatsoever and the dentin will be completely exposed
- Acid Reflux – Similar to bulimia, frequent exposure to stomach acid may wear down tooth enamel. When neglected, acid reflux may lead to gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which could result in more frequent stomach acid regurgitation and effects on your tooth enamel
- Medications – Prescribed or daily doses of medications or tablets like antihistamines, aspirin and vitamin C can damage enamel
- Alcohol Misuse/Bingeing - Addiction can be tough, and if you are currently experiencing or misusing alcohol then seek medical help as soon as possible. Alcohol misuse can damage several areas of one’s health, but it can also damage tooth enamel and lead to long-term dental problems too
- Environmental Factors – This can include friction, wear and tear, stress and corrosion
How Can I Prevent Enamel Damage?
Luckily, there are ways that tooth enamel can be protected before it is completely damaged. Following some simple habits and taking precautionary steps will ensure your teeth are well taken care of. For example, you could:
- Exclude highly acidic foods and drinks from your diet such as carbonated sodas, lemons, and other citrus fruits and juices
- Use a straw when you drink acidic drinks. The straw pushes the liquid to the back of your mouth, avoiding your teeth
- Drink a glass of milk or eat a piece of cheese after a meal, as this will cancel out any acids you may have consumed
- Chew sugar-free gum between meals
- Drink more water
- Use fluoride toothpaste
- Use a soft toothbrush
Treatment of tooth enamel loss normally depends on the problem. In some cases, composite bonding is used to protect the tooth and increase cosmetic appearance.
If the enamel loss is significant, your dentist may recommend covering the tooth with a crown or veneer. The crown may protect the tooth from further decay. Nonetheless, there are steps to take before your tooth enamel is completely damaged. So, taking care of your teeth daily by following a good, hygienic routine will help your enamel in the long run.